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

“Where is this?” Rory asked as he stepped out of the TARDIS and looked around at familiar and yet unfamiliar surroundings. “It looks like a dingy version of London Victoria bus station without any buses.”

“It looks very quiet,” Amy commented. “The last time we were here, this was buzzing with people.”

“It’s late at night,” The Doctor explained. “Or early in the morning, depending on your perspective. I expect most people are asleep.”

“You two have been here before?” Rory queried.

“It’s the Starship UK,” Amy said with a wide smile. “The first place The Doctor ever showed me when I came aboard the TARDIS. I was still in my nightie and slippers. It was really weird... walking around a whole country on the back of a giant space whale, in my nightclothes.”

Rory looked at his wife and wondered which part of that statement she thought was the really weird bit – the country on the back of a space whale or the fact that she was improperly dressed when she visited it.

“Are we before or after we were here last?” she asked The Doctor.

“After, I think,” The Doctor replied. “I don’t feel the same sense of deep, endless suffering. Besides, I picked up a subsonic request to come here. They know who I am.”

He turned and looked at one of the ‘smilers’ in their booths that could be found in every part of Starship UK. He approached it cautiously, but it kept smiling.

“Well, that’s interesting,” he said. He pressed a large green button on the front of the case and the smiling head turned full circle between the frowning and the scowling one while tinkling music played. When it came back to the smile again it spoke – that is to say that a mechanical voice came from the speaker grill.

“What is the next number in this sequence,” it said. “144, 377, 987.”

“2584,” The Doctor replied without a pause. The smiling face was illuminated from below and the mechanical voice told him that he was correct. He smiled at his two companions. “It’s a trivia quiz.”

“Trivia?” Rory queried. “That was trivial to you... how could you possibly know that 25... whatever it was follows... whatever the other number was.”

“They’re part of the Fibonacci sequence. Each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. In this case, it was alternate numbers from the sequence. 1597 should have come between 987 and 2584....”

He noticed the glazed expressions on Amy and Rory’s faces and stopped speaking. He pressed the button again and the Smiler asked a second question.

“What was Cliff Richard’s biggest selling album,” it asked.

“Private Collection, 1988,” Rory answered in the weary tone of the son of a Cliff fan. Amy and The Doctor said nothing as the Smiler announced that he was correct. The Doctor pressed the button again.

“What was the date of Boadicea’s defeat?”

“June 1st, 61 AD,” Amy replied immediately. “Romans in Britain. My favourite part of history.”

“Correct,” said the Smiler and there were a series of whirring noises within. The eyes in the strange painted head lit up and then something dropped down into a receptacle below, just like a can of coke coming out of the machine.

“We won a prize?” Rory reached and picked up the small but highly detailed model and stared at it. “Looks rather fancy for just answering three questions. But what is it?”

“It’s where we are,” Amy answered him. “The Starship UK. See all the little tower blocks with the names of counties on them. And below, that’s the star whale carrying the population of the UK to a new life after the Earth was destroyed by... what was it they said... solar flares, sun spots...?”

“Solar flares,” The Doctor confirmed. He took the model from Rory and looked at it carefully. “I think that Smiler is ever so slightly psychic. Three questions that the three of us would easily answer. And the question I’m asking myself is why?”

“Perhaps it psychically chooses questions for everyone?” Rory suggested.

“Perhaps. Or maybe somebody wanted us to win the prize, because it’s a clue.”

“A clue to what?” Amy asked.

“Where we’re supposed to go,” The Doctor replied. “Look closer.”

He reached into his pocket and produced a large magnifying glass as if it was a neat sleight of hand magic trick. He gave it to Amy and she examined the model carefully.

“There’s a little light blinking. It’s in Kent.... I mean... the skyscraper for Kent.”

“So...” Rory was not slow on the uptake, usually. But he was still a bit bewildered to learn that he was standing within a space ship that was meant to contain the entire population of the UK, all living in great big tower blocks, that were being transported through space on the back of a huge pink and blue animal with big, appealing eyes and lots of frond-like tentacles.

“Rory, old son, it’s for real,” The Doctor told him. “Accept it as a fact, and don’t worry how mad it sounds. Now... we need a ‘vator’ to take us from London to Kent.”

“A ‘vator’?” Rory was still puzzled.

“Short for ‘elevator’,” Amy told him. “Though why, I don’t know. If this is the UK, we just call them lifts. Elevator is an American word.”

“The English language was standardised in the 26th century,” The Doctor said as they headed towards one of the iron gates across the front of a London Underground style lift. “The British accepted words like ‘elevator’ and ‘sidewalk’ and the Americans had to start spelling words like ‘color’ with a ‘u’ in them. And rightly so. Nothing worse than bad spelling.”

He pushed the gate open and they stepped into the ‘vator’. Inside was a mechanical model of one of the robed and cloaked ‘Winders’. The Doctor and Amy had both met Humans who operated the ‘vators’ when they were last here, and were surprised to see the automaton. Amy thought the painted metal face was just a bit sinister. Rory had no prior expectations at all.

“Kent, please,” The Doctor said. “Three for Kent.”

“Please display your travel pass,” the Winder said in a monotone voice. His hand, inside the wide sleeve of his robe held something like a bar code scanner. “Note that excursions between counties cost triple points.”

The Doctor pulled his psychic paper from his inside jacket pocket and held it against the scanner. The Winder nodded and bowed his head towards him.

“Mind the doors, sirs, madam,” it said. The doors closed and the ‘vator’ began to move, first down, and then after a while, sideways. A few minutes later it went up and came to a stop.

“Kent, sirs, madam,” the Winder said. “Have a pleasant visit to the Garden of England.”

“Why do I feel like replying with something rude and ungrateful?” Rory murmured.

“Because you’re not used to robots and artificial intelligences in your century,” The Doctor told him. “You regard something with limited pre-programmed vocabulary as beneath your dignity as a Human being. In later centuries, when robots are more commonplace, humans learn to treat them with respect. Eventually, anyway. Most of them do, at least. The early ancillary robots, used to clean public buildings, sweep the streets, do domestic chores in the house, often suffered from the ignorant view that they were created as servants, not as equals to humans.”

“You mean... like white people used to think of black slaves?” Amy asked. “Sometimes I wonder if the Human race ever learns from its past mistakes.”

“Oh, it does,” The Doctor assured her. “Now... I wonder where in Kent we should go?”

“Visit Canterbury Cathedral,” Rory said.

“Come again?” The Doctor looked around. Rory was looking at a big advertisement hoarding directly opposite the ‘vator’. It advised visitors to Kent to go to the Cathedral.

“Canterbury Cathedral is on the ship?” Amy queried. “Surely there isn’t room?”

“It will be a condensed version of it,” The Doctor explained. “The edited highlights as it were.”

Amy and Rory weren’t at all sure what he meant, but they followed him anyway. He seemed to have some innate sense of direction that brought them, after twenty minutes moving through corridors with murals on the walls of Rural Kent and some of its more picturesque towns and cities, to the Starship UK version of Canterbury Cathedral.

It looked like Canterbury Cathedral’s grand, gothic edifice. But it was just the front, nothing else, and only about a quarter of the size. The Doctor stepped forward through the doors. His two Human companions followed and were surprised to find themselves, not in the cathedral itself, but the crypt below.

“Most tourists come to see the crypt, of course,” Rory said. “The edited highlights. I get it.”

“That shouldn’t be in the crypt, though,” Amy said, pointing to a stained glass window depicting St. Thomas a Becket. “That’s in the main part of the Cathedral.”

“So is that,” The Doctor observed of an effigy of a medieval knight with a crown on his head over a chain mail ‘balaclava’. “The tomb of Edward, the Black Prince. The only Prince of Wales never to be crowned king of England. His father outlived him by a year and his son, Richard II, ascended to the throne.”

“Very interesting,” Rory said in a tone that indicated he felt the exact opposite about that kind of history. Then he stared in amazement as the effigy sat up with a grinding sound and the slow movement that something made of stone might have if it came to life.

“Another clever bit of automation,” The Doctor said. “It’s not really living stone. It just looks like it.” He turned to the effigy as it stood upright. He bowed low. Rory quickly tried to emulate him. Amy did her best with a curtsey. “Your highness, we are your humble servants. Do you have a message for us?”

“I do, indeed, Doctor,” the effigy replied in a voice that resonated as stone ought to resonate if it could speak. “I have a message and a mission from my descendent, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Tenth of the United Kingdom of England and Wales.”

“What happened to Northern Ireland and Scotland?” Rory whispered.

“They went by separate ships,” Amy whispered back.

“What is the message, your highness?”

The effigy made a noise as if it was drawing breath, then a very different voice spoke through it, still with that stony cadence, but a female voice with a different kind of accent entirely.

“Wotcha, Doctor, my old mate,” said Queen Elizabeth the Tenth of the United Kingdom of England and Wales, usually known simply as Liz 10. “I knew I could rely on you. Listen, I need your help. It’s three hundred and twenty-six years since we met. The star whale has brought the United Kingdom across the galaxy and into orbit around a lovely planet, absolutely perfect place with an English climate, fruit on the trees, fish in the river, unspoilt paradise and what have you. Anyway, most of the population have gone down there, along with the construction robots to build their new homes and schools, hospitals, roads and whatnot. The start of a new era, planet UK. But they only went and had a bleeding revolution, didn’t they. Instead of Planet UK, they’ve named it Planet British Republic. Anyone who was loyal to me was sent back to the Starship and locked up in a secure county block. I’m under house arrest. They knew I’d try to contact you. And if I tell you where I am directly, they’ll take it out on my subjects. I’ve had to set a bunch of clues for you to follow, Doctor. So... get a move on, won’t you? It’s bloody boring being a queen with nobody to rule.”

The effigy stopped speaking in Liz 10’s voice and cleared its stony throat noisily before continuing in its Black Prince voice.

“Find the next clue with the victor of the blooming wars,” he said. Then he bowed his head once towards The Doctor, perhaps acknowledging him, the Lord of Time itself, as an equal, then it lay down on the tomb once more and became still.

“His descendent?” Rory said in the silence that followed. “But the House of Windsor isn’t directly descended from him. He’s a what... Tudor... Stuart...”

“Plantagenet,” The Doctor corrected him. “Quite a bit before the Tudors and Stuarts.”

“Well, something. But anyway, all those different Houses. It’s obvious the line of succession was passed to loads of different people who weren’t directly related to each other.”

“I don’t think he was worried about that,” Amy said. “Liz is a lawful and rightful inheritor of the Crown, and he just wanted to help her. At least... what are we talking about? It’s a statue. It’s not the REAL Black Prince. And anyway, how long will a ‘vator’ take to get to Yorkshire?”

“Why Yorkshire?” Rory asked.

“Because York won the Wars of the Roses,” Amy answered him. “Blooming wars... roses.”

“Oh... yeah... right.

“We don’t have to take a ‘vator’ this time,” The Doctor said. “There’s a train.”

He pointed to an archway just like all the others in the gothic crypt. Through that one, though, there was a red light and a chuffing sound. As they drew closer the smell of coal and steam assailed their senses and an old fashioned train whistle sounded.

“Platform nine and three quarters,” Rory commented as they stepped through and saw a full size steam train with a coal wagon, one passenger carriage and a guards van.

“I love steam trains,” Amy said. “Remember the school trip we went on when we were in the first years at Upper Leadworth High School. That steam railway in Yorkshire, where they actually made the film The Railway Children. I loved it. I didn’t want to get off the train. The sound they made, the smell of the steam, the feel of rolling along the tracks, and the gorgeous views.”

“Remind me to take you on the Orient Express sometime,” The Doctor said to her with an indulgent smile. “In the 1920s when it was at its best, perhaps. Five days and nights travelling across Europe should satisfy your steam need.”

A mechanical Winder wearing a ticket inspector’s hat stood by the passenger carriage. Again, The Doctor presented his psychic paper for examination and the Winder nodded and indicated that they could climb aboard.

Unsurprisingly, there were no other passengers. They moved down the corridor to a compartment in the middle of the carriage and settled down. The train got underway, going through a dark tunnel first, before emerging into a brighter one with murals representing the parts of England a train going from Kent to Yorkshire would pass through. The Doctor reached in his pocket and produced a packet of barley sugar sweets that he said were the very thing for a train ride. It all seemed perfectly calm and almost normal, except for the sinister reason for their quest.

“A revolution?” Amy murmured. “Why would they do that? I thought everyone liked Liz. She’s a great queen. I mean... like she says... she rules!”

“She has ruled for a very long time,” The Doctor pointed out. “At least seven hundred years, I make it. Countless generations have come and gone and taken her for granted, part of their existence as much as the space whale is or the Winders and Smilers. But when they found the new planet, when they started to think about living a different kind of life... then they started to wonder if they needed a queen, especially a virtually immortal one. At least it was a bloodless coup, so far at least. I’m a bit worried about the threat to her loyal subjects. I don’t know how serious that is. So far, nothing has threatened us, even though we’re following her clues to free her from wherever it is that she’s being kept prisoner.”

“She’s probably in the Tower of London,” Rory said.

“Then why didn’t we go there straight away?” Amy argued. “Instead of Kent and now Yorkshire.”

“Because she’s not in the Tower,” The Doctor responded. “That would be too easy. We just have to plug on through these clues until we reach her.”

Amy sighed contentedly and looked out of the train window. They were passing through the Midlands, with murals of Ironbridge and the landscape of the industrial revolution. It occurred to her that, school trips aside, she had not really been anywhere until she met The Doctor. Her family made just the one big journey when they moved from Scotland to Leadworth in Gloucestershire, and after that they stayed put. She had lived most of her life within that little village. Travelling on this train, past this microcosm of the country she lived in reminded her that there was a lot of it she had never seen, and she felt a tinge of regret.

“It’s never too late,” The Doctor told her quietly. “Whatever you want to do, be it a motor home tour of the UK, or a world cruise, go do it. Don’t let anyone give you any excuses not to, least of all yourself. That’s why most people don’t do what they want to do, you know. They tell themselves they have responsibilities, they can’t spare the time, or the money, or promise they’ll do it next year... and the next...”

“Is that why you went off in the TARDIS?” Amy asked, passing over the fact that he knew exactly what she was thinking. “Did you run out of excuses to yourself?”

“Something like that,” he responded with a soft smile. “I could take you to some of these places, you know. Ironbridge... We could go and see the opening day when all the crowds gathered expecting to see it collapse under the weight of the first traffic over it. We could be passengers on the Rocket when it won the Rainhill Trials in 1829...”

“That would be fantastic,” Amy told him. “But I think Rory and I should also hire a motor home and go and see those places the way ordinary people do in our own time. I think one day we would need to do that, just to remind ourselves that our feet are firmly planted on the one planet, now.”

“Yes, you should,” The Doctor agreed. They both looked at Rory. He had drifted off to sleep. “You’d better do the driving. Looks like he’s one of those people who likes to wake up when he’s arrived.”

Not many minutes later, they arrived. Rory opened his eyes and looked around sleepily. Amy was off the train and standing on the platform before he and The Doctor joined her.

“Look,” she said. “It’s the place I was talking about, earlier. Haworth, on the Keighley and Worth Railway... from our school trip.”

“Well, sort of,” Rory admitted. “It was in the open air and you could see real mountains in the background, not just painted ones. But it does look a lot like it.”

“So I think I know who we ought to be looking for to give us our next clue,” Amy concluded. “Because this place is famous for something else as well as the trains.”

The Doctor nodded and got ready to show his psychic paper to the Winder with a ticket collector’s hat as they passed out of the station. He was only slightly surprised when they stepped straight into a nicely furnished regency drawing room where three automatons dressed as women in pastel coloured empire dresses were sitting around a polished writing table.

“The Bronte Sisters,” Amy said with a triumphant smile. “This is the parsonage where they lived with their brother and father. It’s a museum. A BORING museum, I might add. I really preferred the trains.”

The Doctor stepped forward and greeted the three women politely. They stood from their literary work and accepted his greetings with late eighteenth century good manners.

“You have a message for us?” The Doctor asked.

“Travel further to the north-east of this county and meet a pale Irishman with a fervid imagination,” the three sisters said in unison, giving their words a slightly sinister timbre.

“Ah,” The Doctor responded. “Ok, very good. Well, thank you for your time. We’ll not disturb you further.”

“Oh, but sirs, madam, won’t you stay and take tea with us? We get so few visitors...”

The Doctor was adamant. He bid them a polite farewell and turned to the door.

“Wow, this isn’t the same railway station,” Rory pointed out as they stepped out of the parsonage into a wide railway station foyer with electronic departure boards, toilets, photo booth, digital clocks everywhere, and most importantly as far as Rory was concerned, vending machines.

“I know it would have been boring, but tea with the Bronte Sisters might have involved cake and sandwiches. I’m hungry.”

He looked at the machines and shuffled the loose change in his pocket uncertainly before The Doctor got out his psychic paper again and pressed it against a panel in the beverage machine and the one dispensing fresh sandwiches and chocolate bars. They selected their choice of snacks and then turned to the departure boards.

“It looks like we could get a train to anywhere in England or Wales from here,” Rory observed. “Which is not very likely in reality. But I suppose we left THAT behind a long time ago.”

“So which train do we get to meet a ‘pale Irishman?” Amy asked. “Ireland doesn’t have anything to do with Starship UK. It’s completely separate. I asked last time.”

“That one,” Rory answered her. “We have to go to Whitby.”

“How do you get...” Amy began. Then she realised. “Ah, right. Ok.”

The train at the platform wasn’t a steam one this time, but a sleek electric one. Again there was only one carriage and they were the only passengers. Murals of Yorkshire countryside flashed by as they travelled. Amy again watched them and thought about seeing the real thing.

“What’s with all these cultural things, anyway?” Rory asked The Doctor. “Canterbury Cathedral, the Brontes, Whitby. “Why are they here? I get that people had to evacuate the planet. But why bring all this stuff with them?”

“Because they wanted to preserve their heritage as well as their lives,” The Doctor answered. “Their journey began centuries ago. The generation that arrived at this new planet would have completely forgotten what UK means if they didn’t hold onto what their ancestors considered to be the essence of their homeland. History, literature, religion, music, architecture. I think there was some kind of a vote to decide what were the most iconic symbols of UKness.”

The train emerged from one of the mural-lined tunnels and stopped. They got off and stepped through a ticket barrier to find themselves at the top of a set of steep steps. Around them were murals that depicted a clifftop churchyard and a small parish church as well as a ruined abbey with the sun setting behind it dramatically.

A pale-complexioned automaton of a man with a writing block and pen in his hands walked towards them.

“Mr Bram Stoker, of course,” The Doctor said in greeting. “Spending some time in the lovely Whitby for his health, and writing the iconic gothic novel of the Victorian age. Here, of course, it was that Lucy met with Count Dracula in the churchyard on the West Cliff.”

Rory and Amy both admitted to never having read the book. But they both knew several film versions, some of which included the Whitby scene. Despite this being a robot, they happily congratulated Mr Stoker on his novel.

“My thanks,” he said. “Have you come across my other works? The Duties of Clerks of Petty Session in Ireland, 1879, was something of a triumph of penmanship, if I may say so myself.”

“Splendid stuff,” The Doctor told him. “But I believe you have something to tell us?”

“In the place where another literary genius dwelt, find the mermaid’s key,” the automaton Stoker told him.

“Thanks very much,” The Doctor replied. “Very helpful. Enjoy the rest of your walk. Mind the cliff edge, won’t you? Otherwise you’ll never finish your book.”

He turned and looked around. Of course, there was no way back to the train, now. These locations seemed to be distinctly one way. And the way was down the steps that represented the long series of stone steps up from Whitby town to the churchyard on the cliff. He didn’t count them, but they seemed to be as many as there were in the real location, with murals of the splendid view over the North Sea to make it less tedious than it might be.

They were going down through several levels of the Starship UK to a new series of tunnels. When they reached the bottom they found themselves in a bus depot.

“National Express,” Rory groaned as he looked at a familiar logo. “I thought I’d never have to set foot on one of their coaches again.”

“He did his nurse’s training in Birmingham,” Amy explained. “Poor Rory. He travelled back every Friday evening to spend the weekend at home in Leadworth, and back again Sunday night. That’s when I knew I couldn’t marry any other man. He suffered the trials of British Public Transport to be with me.”

Rory smiled heroically. If he had any other motive for coming home every weekend, like his mother’s shepherd’s pie or the Sunday league football, he wasn’t about to spoil this moment by saying so.

“But where are we going?” Amy asked “What bus do we get? A Mermaid’s Key? I don’t get that clue. I mean, so far this hasn’t exactly been cryptic. It’s not exactly Da Vinci Code. It’s not even National Treasure II. But this one....”

“We’re going to Wales,” The Doctor answered blithely. “I get the clue. Don’t worry.”

There was nobody else on the coach, of course. The driver was an automaton Winder. Amy and Rory sat side by side on the wide front seat upstairs. The Doctor sat behind them with his long legs stretched out sideways on the seat and his feet dangling in the aisle. They all had another of his barley sugars as the coach travelled along a tunnel with murals of rural England that gave way, after a half an hour, to scenes of rural Wales. The only difference being the appearance of a red dragon flag every hundred yards or so.

“We didn’t see any England flags before,” Rory pointed out. “How come we need reminders that we’re in Wales?”

“It’s just like there’s no national anthem for England,” Amy told him. “English people think it’s obvious that they’re English. They don’t need to flaunt it. Of course, it’s just arrogance, or laziness. Maybe both.”

“Any more of that Scottishness from you, Pond, and I’ll regret marrying you.” Rory answered good naturedly. He didn’t mean it. Neither did she. It was the sort of banter they had shared since they were children and why should they change now they were grown up and married to each other. The Doctor half-listened and appreciated from a third party position what made Human relationships so unique in the whole galaxy.

“Cardiff,” he said as they alighted from the coach at last. “Specifically, Roald Dahl Plas. Note the murals around us depicting the Millennium centre with the dual language poetry across the façade and the Welsh National Assembly Building among other landmarks. Roald Dahl, of course, is the other literary genius Mr Bram Stoker referred to. This former coal dock was named in his honour when the Cardiff Bay regeneration project was started in the late 1990s. And unless I have got us completely wrong-footed, which I don’t think I have...”

He led them across the simulacrum of Roald Dahl Plas and down a set of steps to a wooden boardwalk with murals of a wide bay with calm water and yachts berthed in a marina.

“Not a Mermaid’s Key,” The Doctor explained. “But Mermaid Quay. I’ve been here a couple of times. The first visit was two regenerations back. I took a Slitheen to dinner in a little restaurant on the Quay. And another time...”

There’s nobody around here,” Rory pointed out. “No Winders, no automaton version of Roald Dahl, or anyone else. What do we do?”

“There’s a tourist information office over there,” Amy said. “Maybe...”

The Doctor laughed softly.

“In the real Cardiff, that actually isn’t a real tourist information office. The real one is the other direction around the Bay. THAT is a cover for the entrance to the secret headquarters of Torchwood, an organisation that monitors alien life on planet Earth – alien life other than me, that is. An old friend of mine used to be in charge.”

“So this is a replica of a fake?” Amy summed it up. “It’s open. Shall we go in?”

“Not yet,” Rory said. “Doctor... look at that.”

The Doctor looked at the rather dingy window of the tourist office. There was a notice stuck to it with blue tack. It had a picture of Liz 10 in the corner and a message in the sort of bold print tabloid newspapers use for their subheadings.

“The Queen Is In The Tower.”

“You said she wouldn’t be in the Tower of London,” Rory said to The Doctor.

“She isn’t,” Amy said before The Doctor could reply. She had stepped into the tourist office anyway and now she stepped out again with a tourist leaflet. “A Welsh Tourist Office full of advertisements for Blackpool.” She held up the glossy fold out leaflet. The image on the front was of Blackpool’s most iconic building. “She’s in BLACKPOOL Tower.”

“Well done, Amy,” The Doctor said. “Now all we need is suitable transport to Blackpool. And I think the very thing is right down there.”

Rory and Amy looked where he was pointing. Wooden steps led down to a tunnel with water covering the floor. It looked like the entrance to a tunnel of love at the fairground except that waiting for them to go aboard was a small craft with the words ‘Cardiff Bay Water Taxi’ across the side.

“Now I’ve seen it all,” Rory said. “Oh well, it’s not a coach, anyway.”

The murals on the walls this time were coastal scenes. On the left there were seascapes, some of them with sunsets, some of them bright sunny days with blue skies, others stormy and dull. On the right were some of the highlights of the Welsh coast all the way around the Bristol Channel to the Irish sea, into England at the Wirral Peninsula, past the Mersey estuary to the coast of Lancashire. Blackpool Tower started to feature in a lot of the murals, getting bigger and more detailed with each one, until finally the Water Taxi stopped at what looked like a piece of Blackpool Beach. The Doctor and companions walked up the steps and found themselves, without crossing the promenade or seeing a single Blackpool Tram, inside the base of the tower, facing a lift entrance. A Winder was on duty and asked to see their tickets. The Doctor produced his psychic paper. To his surprise, it didn’t work this time. The Winder’s automated face revolved to reveal a frown.

“Special tickets are required to ascend the Tower,” the Winder said. “Her Royal Majesty cannot receive uninvited guests.”

“I’m not uninvited,” The Doctor replied. “I’m The Doctor. Liz is expecting me.”

“Special tickets are required...”

“Oh, I can’t be bothered,” The Doctor said. He whipped his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket in a flash and pointed it at the Winder’s ticket scanner. At once the face turned around again to the smiling one.

“Welcome, Doctor plus two. Please step into the lift. Have a pleasant trip to the top of the Tower.”

They stepped into the lift. A folding iron gate closed behind them, then a wooden one. The lift began to ascend. It creaked and rattled and there was a draught through the door. They caught glances of the open ironwork tower through the gaps. Even though it was probably some sort of optical illusion, none of them liked it very much.

The lift stopped at last. They stepped out onto the observation deck of Blackpool Tower – or a really good reproduction of it, anyway. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Tenth, usually known as Liz 10 was sitting on a striped deckchair. She was wearing a red satin dress and was holding the orb and sceptre of the British Crown Jewels.

“Wotcha, Doctor,” she said. “I knew you’d make it. I was a bit worried about the Winder downstairs. He’s a bit of a stickler for procedure. Psychic paper doesn’t work on him. But I’m glad to see you sorted him out. Hello, Amy, nice to see you again, too. Who’s your friend?”

“This is Rory,” Amy answered. “He’s my husband.”

“Congratulations. So... shall we get out of here? We have to rescue my loyal subjects.”

“Where are they?” The Doctor asked. “We haven’t seen a real, live Human at all since we got here.”

“They’re all trapped in the smallest county of England,” Liz answered. The Doctor noted that she wasn’t heading towards the lift, but the steps up to the open observation deck above the one enclosed in glass for the faint-hearted visitor. He followed her. Rory and Amy followed him.

“What’s the smallest county in England?” Amy asked. “I never was much good at that sort of thing.”

“The only one that doesn’t have any tunnels or ‘Vator’ access,” Liz answered them. “That’s what makes it tricky. But now you’re here, Doctor, with your TARDIS. You can reel them in.”

“The TARDIS is back in London,” The Doctor told her.

“No problem,” Liz told him. “Now you’re here I can break out of the Tower and get back there.”

“What was stopping you from doing that before?” Rory asked. “And HOW are you breaking out of the Tower?”

“I could have gone any time,” Liz answered. “But without The Doctor and his TARDIS there wasn’t any point. I can’t get to my subjects without him. And until they’re safe I can’t risk setting the Starship UK on a new course.”

The second question was answered when they stepped out onto the upper observation deck. It wasn’t in the open air, of course. There was no open air aboard a huge space ship on top of a giant whale in orbit around a planet. They were, The Doctor guessed, still deep in the bowels of Starship UK. The Tower was in a deep shaft with a corridor leading off from it at a sloping angle.

There was a thick, taut wire running from the top of the observation deck down that corridor.

Attached to the wire were a series of alpine cable cars as seen at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They were painted in primary colours, blue red and yellow and came up the corridor and turned around at the top to go back down again.

“You and me take the next one, Doctor,” Liz said opening a gate in the wrought iron railing. “And your friends can follow behind.”

“What!” Amy looked over the edge at the dizzying drop. She tried to imagine what would happen if they missed their step getting into the cable car. She and Rory watched in astonishment as Liz and The Doctor stepped through the gate and across the foot and a half of empty space into a red cable car. They sat opposite each other and waved goodbye as their car turned and set off down the corridor.

Amy and Rory grasped hands reassuringly then let go. They needed both hands free to attempt to step into the blue car that came up surprisingly fast.

They missed and stepped back quickly.

“Ok, the next one,” Rory said. “Get ready.”

Amy squealed as they stepped forwards over the gap and onto the car. It swayed sickeningly as she scrambled to sit down. Rory slid into the seat opposite her. Once they were both sitting down it stopped swaying quite as much but it was never going to be her favourite form of transport.

“We’re not seriously going all the way to London on this, are we?” Amy asked.

“It’s probably not as far as it sounds,” Rory assured her. “By the way, I know what the smallest county in England is. I hope the Doctor doesn’t tell her before me.”

“I don’t much care,” Amy replied. “My brain is going to shut down now until we’re on solid ground again.... or as solid as it gets with a space whale underneath it.”

She closed her eyes and then opened them again. The slight rocking sensation was WORSE when she couldn’t see why she was rocking. She looked down at her shoes and ignored the murals on the corridor walls. She didn’t care what they depicted.

Rory said nothing. He had only been married to Amy for a few months, but he had known her all his life.

He knew when to shut up.

In reality it was only about twenty minutes before they reached their destination. For Amy it felt longer.

“That was fun!” The Doctor exclaimed as he watched their car descend the last few yards. “Let’s do it again.”

“If you don’t grab this thing and help me out I’ll show you a meaning of fun that isn’t in your dictionary,” Amy replied. At least that’s what she wanted to say. What came out was more like ‘Get me...... off.... this #&$% thing, NOW!”

The Doctor grabbed the car and slowed it enough for Amy and Rory to jump out before letting it carry on back up the sloping corridor again.

“We’re back where we started,” Rory observed. “Victoria Station. The TARDIS is right there near the Smiler with the trivia quiz. How come we didn’t see this before? We could have just gone straight to the Tower and picked her up and be done with it.”

“Because we had to pass the tests to get to the Tower,” The Doctor replied. “At least, I think that was the point.” He looked at Liz 10. “You weren’t just playing games with us, were you? Because I really have better things to do.”

“No,” Liz assured him. “If anyone had come directly to me, without switching off the security nodes at each of the locations, my loyal subjects would have been set adrift in space.”

“What security nodes?” Amy asked. “We didn’t...”

“Yes, you did,” Liz explained. “Just by passing through each of the locations in the test you switched them off – entering Canterbury Cathedral, showing your travel pass to the station master Winder at Haworth, getting the train to Whitby, the bus to Cardiff, stepping into the tourist office, ascending the Tower lift. It all contributed. But now we have to move fast. We need the TARDIS to get to my subjects and rescue them.”

“From the smallest county in England,” Rory said. “I’ve been thinking about that. It’s Rutland.”

“Not when we left Earth,” Liz answered. “Although that HAS been the smallest county many times in history, it had been re-integrated into Leicestershire for administrative purposes.”

“Then it’s the Isle of Wight,” Rory said. “It was a question down at the Traveller’s Halt last pub quiz night. There was nearly a fight between John Kenny’s team and Peter Harris’s table because John said Rutland and Peter said Isle of Wight and the answer on the card was Isle of Wight, but John said Rutland had been made a unitary county at the last boundary commission and Billy Henderson got onto Google on his Blackberry and checked it and Frank Kipson who was doing the quiz gave both teams the points....”

Rory stopped talking. Everyone was starting to look glazed over.

“He’s right,” Liz said. “And that’s the problem.”

“The Isle of Wight is England’s only non-contiguous county, of course,” The Doctor explained. “Not connected to another county,” he added in case anyone didn’t know what non-contiguous meant. “So... that’s why you need the TARDIS. Ok, all aboard, everyone.”

It was Liz’s first time inside the TARDIS, but since she had spend more than half a millennia on board a space ship travelling through the galaxy on the back of a space whale, a ship that was bigger on the inside hardly bothered her at all. She watched The Doctor as he found the co-ordinates for the Isle of Wight and initiated the short hop dematerialisation and re-materialisation.

“Wow!” Amy and Rory exclaimed together as they stepped out of the TARDIS onto a small island, just big enough to support a fifty storey skyscraper. It seemed, at first, to be floating freely in space. They didn’t even ask how they were breathing. The Doctor would probably say something about atmospheric bubbles.

The Isle of Wight was attached to the Starship UK by two huge cables pulled very taut. Rory stepped towards the edge and looked at the back end of the space whale and the shining planet far below their orbit. He noted that it looked a lot like Earth, with blue and green parts and white at the two poles.

Amy wasn’t going anywhere near the edge and she was glad when Rory came back to her side.

“So what now?” she asked. “I suppose the people are in that skyscraper. Do we get them all on board the TARDIS?”

“There’s five hundred thousand of them,” Liz told her. “What we need is to reel her in so we can get back onto the mainland.”

“You need a winch,” The Doctor said.

“We don’t have a winch,” Rory pointed out.

We have the TARDIS. Stay there. Sit down and enjoy the view. This will be fun.”

He bounded back into the TARDIS and closed the door. Amy and Rory sat on the rocky ground. Liz 10 joined them, but she sat in a regal way as if she was on a throne. They heard the TARDIS make that organic mechanical sound it made when it dematerialised, and the light on top flashed blue and white, but it stayed right where it was.

The ground beneath them moved.

Rory looked up nervously at the skyscraper, then remembered that it had already travelled millions of miles through space and figured it wasn’t going to topple while moving something like a quarter of a mile towards the ‘coast’ of Starship UK.

“He must have done something with gravity or made the Isle of Wight magnetic or... something,” Amy concluded. Rory and Liz agreed it had to be something like that. They also agreed that they WEREN’T going to ask The Doctor how it was done. They knew he would talk technical and they wouldn’t understand a word of it, so there was no point.

There was a very slight bump when the island and the mainland finally came together. It was like a train carriage bumping against the buffers. When they stepped closer and looked, there was just a very fine line that showed where the two pieces of land had joined together. The Isle of Wight was no longer an island, though it was probably still the smallest county in England.

The loyal subjects of Queen Elizabeth the 10th crossed over into Hampshire over the course of the day and took ‘vators’ or coaches and trains to the parts of the Starship UK they came from. The Doctor gave Liz a lift back to London, where the Starship UK’s bridge was located. It was manned by automaton Winders who all bowed obsequiously to her as she entered.

“I’m back in charge,” she said. “Everyone aboard is loyal to me. I rule.”

“What about the people on the planet?” Amy asked.

“They’ve made their choice,” Liz replied. “They’ve chosen to live on Planet British Republic. Good luck to them. We’ll go on and find another Planet UK.”

“That’s easy enough,” The Doctor told her. “Just turn around and head back to Earth. The solar flares were seven hundred years ago. By the time you get back, fourteen hundred years will have passed. It will be waiting for you to start again.”

“Seven hundred years,” Liz considered. “Generations will have been born and died by the time we get back.”

“And you’ll still rule,” The Doctor reminded her.

“Maybe not,” she said. “Maybe I should think about an heir, a new line of succession. And then grow old gracefully. Perhaps it should be one of my descendents who rules when they get there.”

“It’s your decision,” The Doctor told her. “I’ll see that your course is set and everything is running smoothly aboard, then we’ll be on our way. If you have any more trouble, though, you only have to call me.”

“I do, indeed,” Liz agreed. “I don’t know how to thank you, Doctor. Traditionally, a knighthood is the thing. But Victoria already gave you one of those. Would a slap up supper at the Palace do instead?”

The Doctor looked at his companions and nodded.

“That would do very nicely, thank you, your Majesty.”