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

The TARDIS was acting oddly. The Doctor wanted to go sunbathing on the planet of Orita Trio which had three suns but an ozone layer so thick it was impossible to burn even at high noon when all three of the suns were at their zenith.

The TARDIS wanted him to land on a muddy field in Scotland.

“Yes, I know it’s the site of the battle of Culloden,” he said. “We’ve been here before, remember. But now it’s just a tourist attraction. Look at that lot over there, gawping idiots with no concept of what really happened here. It makes me glad there’s nothing left of Gallifrey. Can you imagine some kind of intergalactic tourist attraction – Scene of the Last Battle of the Last Great Time War – special reduced rates for student parties.”

The TARDIS didn’t answer him. She had only ever done that once, in very unusual circumstances. But all the same he always felt she understood him in some deeply fundamental way.

And she always brought him where he was needed – not where he thought he wanted to go.

Why was he needed here? Who needed him?

A very faint blip on the lifesign monitor gave him a clue. He grinned widely and watched developments outside with barely suppressed glee.

The tour guide was done with her group. She sent them on the way to the visitor centre with its café and gift shop and turned to walk across the field on her own. She stopped by the cairn that commemorated the dead of that battle of 1747. She touched the stones reverently before walking around the side and stopping in surprise when she found a blue 1950s police box standing beside the cairn.

“What….” She began. Her lips moved silently as she read the sign on the telephone cupboard. She touched the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade sticker on the door as if checking that it was real.

The door opened. She just kept her balance and avoided falling against the man who stood on the threshold. She thought she saw lights behind him in the strange box, but he closed the door quickly behind him.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m The Doctor. And you are….”

“Jean Ferguson,” she replied. “I’m an assistant tour guide. What is this, and why is it here? And… why does it seem so familiar to me? I… am sure I’ve seen it before…. in my dreams… or… in another life… This is so strange.”

“You look like you need a cup of tea,” The Doctor told her. “Is the stuff they sell at your visitor centre any good?”

“It’s… not exactly Earl Gray served in a silver teapot,” she replied. “But it’s ok.” A moment later she wondered why she was talking about tea.

“Ok, then. Let’s go. You’ve finished tour-guiding for today, haven’t you?”

“Yes… but….”

Jean thought of herself as a level headed person, and one who could look after herself. She regularly took parties of assorted visitors for the long walk around the ‘field’ of Culloden by herself and dealt with all sorts of nonsense from them. She considered that she could ‘handle’ people.

But now she found herself being handled, by an absurd looking person who just stepped out of an absurd object that shouldn’t even be there.

She should have refused. She had other things to do. But she found herself walking with the stranger in tweed jacket and bow tie, both of which looked like they belonged to a man at least ten years older who hadn’t been told that the 1950s were over. They came to the visitor centre café and he sat with her, ordering tea and scones for two. She noted that he pronounced that controversial word ‘scone’ in the Scottish way, even though his accent seemed to be from Southern England where they had a different pronunciation.

Then she wondered why she had noticed such a thing about him. What did it matter how he – or indeed anyone - pronounced the word ‘scone’?

She ate a buttered scone and drank tea and waited for the stranger to say something about himself that might explain his presence here and her own compulsion to be there with him.

Instead he asked her about herself.

“Have you ever traced your family tree?”

“Yes, I have, as a matter of fact,” she answered. “My mother was a Frazer of Inverness, my father is from a long line of Fergusons from the Isle of Bute. His family go right back to the twelfth century. On my mother’s side, the family have always been highlanders from around the Inverness area. My grandfather Robert Frazer married a Margaret McCrimmon….”

“McCrimmon?” The Doctor smiled triumphantly. “Of course. That’s where it comes from.”

“Where what comes from?” Jean asked.

“Are you good at languages?” The Doctor asked instead of answering her question. “Have they always come easy to you?”

“I speak fluent gaelic – Scots Gaelic, as well as German, Spanish and Japanese. That’s one of the reasons I got this job. A lot of Germans, Spanish and Japanese come to see the site of the Battle of Culloden.”

“That’s the genetic imprint at work, of course. Even after all these years, it’s still there. Do you like working here?”

“Yes, I do. It’s only part time. I’m a student, working on my post-grad in historical studies. I love the local history, anyway. My ancestors fought on the Jacobite side. It’s part of my heritage. And WHY did I tell you all of that? Who are you and why are you so interested in me?”

“I’m The Doctor. I’m a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the Kasteborous system. I travel in space and time in my TARDIS disguised as an Earth police telephone box. My TARDIS recognised you as a descendent of one of my former companions. Your great-great-great-great-great grandfather times another couple of greats was Jamie McCrimmon, an eighteen year old piobaire who went into battle with his clan under that Jacobite banner and was one of the lucky ones who survived the slaughter. A little while after that I met up with him and he travelled with me for a time, seeing even greater terrors than the English army and facing them manfully despite his youth.”

It was a revelation that should have impressed and awed Jean Ferguson, but to The Doctor’s surprise she wasn’t listening. She wasn’t even looking at him. Like everyone else in the café she was looking towards the window.

“The sky!” she exclaimed. “What’s happened? Where did the light go?”

The Doctor jumped up from his seat and leapt onto the window table, narrowly missing the plate of half-eaten sandwiches belonging to the customers sitting there.

“Don’t look directly at it,” he said to the others looking up into the sky. He, himself, stared straight at the eclipsed sun. It was the Earth’s moon that had blocked it out, but he was certain it was not a natural occurrence. Total eclipses this far north of the equator were rare, and there were none due in the time period the TARDIS had brought him to.

“This is wrong,” he said. “Very wrong. I know… I know… that’s a terrible cliché. But it’s true. This is just wrong.”

Nobody cared about clichés. They cared about the fact that the sun was obscured and the sky turning an eerie orange-red.

They cared about the high-pitched Doppler sound of something crashing through the atmosphere, something fiery red that smashed into the carefully maintained lawn in front of the visitor centre. The Doctor turned and dived off the table, pulling the two closest customers down onto the floor with him as the pressure wave hit the plate glass window and shattered it. Customers and staff shrieked in panic and dived under tables as another burning red object came crashing out of the sky, followed by two, three, a dozen more.

The Doctor stood slowly and stepped towards the empty gap where the glass door had been. He walked towards the crater made by the nearest of the falling objects, adjusting his sonic screwdriver as he did so. He crouched by the edge of the smoking hole and measured the width and depth using the sonic’s triangulation mode, then took readings of the heat coming from the still glowing mass at the bottom of the crater and seven different types of radiation, three of which weren’t known to Human scientists.

“What are you doing?” Jean Ferguson yelled, running to his side. “It’s dangerous out here. Those things….”

“Bolides,” The Doctor said calmly.

“Those bolides…. They’re red hot… you’ll be burnt to a cinder if one hits you.”

“So will you,” he replied. “You should have stayed inside.”

Jean looked up at the sky, then around at the sudden explosion as one of the bolides landed on a minivan in the car park. Several people had run to their cars for safety. Now they ran away from them. Some people ran out of the visitor centre, reasoning that it would come off badly if hit. Others ran into it, thinking it might offer some protection.

“I don’t think it would make much difference, either way,” she admitted. “What’s happening? You look as if you have some kind of idea about it all.”

“Me? Ideas, certainly not. I’m as in the dark as anyone else is.”

“Oh, really? Then what’s that thing in your hands and why were you using it to measure the hole and… whatever else you were doing?”

“Well… er…. Well, actually, to tell you the truth….” He looked up and saw one of the bolides heading directly for the spot where they were standing. He grasped Jean’s hand and ran. By complete coincidence he ran towards the cairn and the TARDIS standing next to it. As he drew close to his ship he snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. He snapped them again, several times, with increasing desperateness. Finally, the door opened. He dashed inside, pulling Jean along with him. He turned to shut the door as the cairn was obliterated by a direct hit. The TARDIS lurched precariously on the edge of the crater. The Doctor gripped the door and slammed it shut, then ran to hit the dematerialisation switch.

“I… think you might have just saved my life,” Jean said. “Thank you for that. But….” She looked around the console room. It was almost too much to take in at once. She managed to notice the second level below, and the gallery above the floor she was standing on. She noted the stairs that apparently went nowhere and guessed there was some kind of trompe-l’oeil effect going on, which meant it was even bigger than it appeared.

She was trying not to look at the insane computer in the middle of the room that The Doctor was adjusting maniacally. And she was definitely not looking at the huge round ‘window’ that showed a view of space. They were NOT in space. No way. That was just a bit of video or something.

She went back to the door and opened it. She stared out at space. The Earth and its moon were below… far below. The starfield went on forever in every direction around the impossible blue box she was standing in. She clung to the doorframe while the wave of agoraphobia passed over her. Then she clung even harder as the TARDIS automatically adjusted its position to avoid being hit by another wave of bolides. The Doctor came to shut the door and gently drew her towards a seat near the console.

“I’ve initiated the gravity cushions. Even if we roll a bit you’ll be all right there. I’m trying to get a fix on the source of the bolides. You just sit there and take a couple of long, slow breaths. The TARDIS air supply contains very slightly more oxygen than on Earth. It’ll do you good.”

“TARDIS….” Jean was aware that something very soft and gentle, like a cushion of air, was pinning her to the chair so that she couldn’t fall off. She wondered if she could stand up. Had he made her a prisoner without her realising?

She was in a box, in space. She was already a prisoner.

Yet she didn’t feel as scared as she thought she ought to feel.

“It stands for….”

“Time and…. Re….Relative…” she wasn’t even sure where the words were coming from. They just did. “Time and Relative Dimension in Space.”


“How did I know that?”

“Ancestral memory,” The Doctor answered. “Ironically I don’t think you remember anything I said in the café a mere fifteen minutes ago. You were pre-occupied. Fortunately I remember everything. My rather impressive speech began with ‘I’m The Doctor’.”

“I think I got that bit. Also something about coming from the planet Galway in the Castanet system….”

“We’ll sort that out later. The important bit is about you, Jean Ferguson. One of your ancestors was a Highland piobaire called Jamie McCrimmon. He was barely eighteen when he survived the slaughter on Culloden field and went into hiding with the rest of the Jacobite forces. I met him a day or two later and he came with me on my journey through time and space. He was a bright young man who adapted very well to the life. He was loyal and brave, and I was very glad of his company. I missed him when they sent him home to his proper place and time. So did the TARDIS, I think. When she recognised your DNA, and the very faint trace of artron energy that was passed down through the generations, I had to come and find you. It was like fate. Except I don’t believe in fate. There’s always some reason for everything.”

Jean didn’t say anything for a long time. She was still processing the startling information that was in The Doctor’s statement.

“I’m related to somebody you used to know… four hundred years ago?”


“Is there any point in mentioning that you don’t look a day over thirty? I suppose that doesn’t matter to time travellers.”

“Not my particular species of time travellers, anyway. I wasn’t really planning to bring you into the TARDIS. I just wanted to have tea and a chat, and, I don’t know, pretend I was interested in genealogy and descendants of the Culloden survivors. It all went a bit wrong.”

“You mean… the bolide attack…. You mean that was your fault. You brought it on us? There are people injured back there… maybe even dead. And you’re going on about tea and genealogy.”

She stood up. The ‘gravity cushion’ didn’t stop her doing that. She strode towards The Doctor angrily.

“No, it wasn’t me,” he answered. “The TARDIS… she… could have brought me here to see you any day. But it brought me on the one day when I’m REALLY needed and found you… the one person who could help me.”

“But I can’t,” she replied. Her anger subsided. His logic made sense. “I’m a history student and part time tour guide. I know nothing about space. I only know that those things are called bolides because you said so. And I don’t understand why they’re bombarding Culloden.”

“They’re not just bombarding Culloden,” The Doctor told her. “They’re bombarding the whole of this sector of the northern hemisphere.” He showed her a disturbing image on one of the console monitors. It showed fiery bolides raining down on the whole of the British Isles and western Europe. Another screen was receiving live streaming TV pictures. She saw emergency services dealing with an impact crater close to one of the feet of the Eiffel Tower, river firefighters on the Thames pouring water onto a burning section of the Palace of Westminster, a crater that destroyed a huge section of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. In all those places there had to have been casualties. It was horrifying.

“Why? Who’s doing it, and what for?”

“They’re doing it,” The Doctor answered, pointing to another monitor focussed on what Jean could only describe as a space ship. She had never seen a space ship before outside of science fiction television, but it had to be one.

And even in her limited experience, it didn’t looked like a ship that came in peace. It looked like a giant sea mine, rust coloured with spikes sticking out of it at every angle. Those of its spikes that pointed out into space had a glowing red light coming from them. This light was drawing bolides towards it. When they were close enough the ship whipped around and the bolides were sling shot towards Earth before the ship span around again to draw in more ammunition.

“Gabrossians,” The Doctor said with a disgusted tone in his voice. “The most cowardly planetary conquerors in the galaxy. They don’t bother to invade a planet. They just bombard it with fireballs until there’s nothing left but a charred cinder and then terraform it and take it for their own use. They’re always careful to pick worlds without any interplanetary defence systems. Usually it’s some primitive society that thinks their gods are angry with them or that the sky is a glass bowl that’s falling in on them.”

“We’re not totally defenceless,” Jean pointed out. “The Americans have missiles. We’re not going to get turned into a cinder without a fight.”

“That’s what I like about humans. They don’t give up easily. But the Americans can keep their missiles in their silos. I’ll deal with this.”

“How?” Jean asked. “Does this TARDIS have weapons?”

“Weapons? Certainly not. Here, if you don’t want to sit still, make yourself useful. Grab hold of the gravitron manipulator while I adjust the magneto.”

He had waved vaguely in the direction of a panel of confusing switches and levers. Jean looked at them doubtfully. It would be too easy, of course, if there was a sticker next to one of the levers that said ‘gravitron manipulator.’ How did he know what any of these switches do?

“Instinct,” The Doctor said, even though she had not spoken aloud. “I trust my instincts. Trust yours. Jamie knew what to do. You will, too.”

She could have pointed out that it made no sense. Just because her ancestor knew what to do, it didn’t mean she did. But she half-closed her eyes and reached out for the central lever.

“See, told you,” The Doctor remarked. She ignored him. She was busy looking at the round screen. Something was happening. The last salvo of bolides were no longer heading for Earth. They were rushing back towards the Gabrossian ship. They slammed into the outer hull and stuck to it. More and more bolides rushed towards the ship, and the hull was soon buried beneath a new skin of red hot space boulders.

“We reversed the magnetism, somehow, made the bolides come back?”


“Will they….” Jean began. “I mean… it must be hot in there. Will it kill them?”

“They’ve killed hundreds of people on Earth,” The Doctor reminded her. Don’t you think they deserve to cook to death inside their ship?”

“No. That’s a horrible way to die. Even after what they did to us… to people on Earth, no I don’t want that to happen to them.”

“An eye for an eye,” The Doctor pointed out. “Or as the military experts on your planet call it… a proportional response.”

“We also say something about ‘the quality of mercy’,” Jean answered. “We don’t have to be like them. We can be… kind.”

“Yes, you can,” The Doctor said with a wide smile. “It’s all right. Gabrossian ships are insulated against extremes of heat and cold. They won’t die that way. They won’t die at all. But look….”

The ship was turning around slowly. Then it accelerated away, becoming lost from view very quickly. Jean watched its progress through the solar system on an interactive chart on the TARDIS navigation panel. When it passed Pluto it suddenly vanished altogether.

“The bolides mostly dropped away as it passed through the asteroid belt,” The Doctor explained. “Once they cleared the solar system they could activate their ‘warp engines’ for want of a better word and cross half a galaxy in an eyeblink. They’re gone and they won’t be back. They know Earth isn’t defenceless, now. Like I said, cowards.”

“So we saved the world. Or… well, you did. I just turned a handle.”

“It was a very important handle, which was inconveniently on the other side of the console to the magneto. Without elastic arms I couldn’t do what needed doing. You saved the world with me.”

He smiled widely again. Jean felt as if every supervisor she had worked under, every university tutor, every school teacher whose class she had been in, had just praised her at once. It was that kind of feeling of elation and pride that washed over her.

“Ok, how about we have that cup of tea, now,” The Doctor added. “We were interrupted last time.”

He pressed a switch and Jean felt a change in the subtle vibration beneath her feet. On the round screen and on all of the console monitors there was a whirling swirling tunnel effect like somebody had been playing around with a graphic animation package. Looking at it for too long made her feel a little dizzy. She looked at The Doctor, instead, but he was very deliberately not looking at her. There were a thousand questions she would have liked to ask him, but she had the feeling he probably wouldn’t answer her.

“Here we are,” he said after a while. “This place does the best cup of tea in this galactic quadrant.”

The place they stepped out into looked like an old-fashioned ABC teashop such as she had seen in old black and white photographs of life in the 1920s and 30s. The waitresses were dressed in neat, ankle length black skirts and crisp white aprons and caps. The tables had white table cloths and silver cake stands.

But one group of customers had green spiky faces and were sitting as far as possible away from the tall cactus plant in a terra cotta pot that occupied the corner by the sweet trolley. Another group had golden wings and hair down to their feet.

And behind the lace curtained windows there was a view of an alien planet. It was pink and white with streaks of blue and it had a ring system like Saturn except it was vertical, not horizontal.

“This tea shop is in space!” Jean exclaimed.

“It’s the Cassea V space station in permanent orbit around the lovely planet of Cassea V – well, obviously.”


The Doctor found a window table and held her chair for her to sit. Then he calmly ordered tea with buttered crumpets, saying that they were the best in the galaxy, too. Jean didn’t pretend to be an expert on intergalactic crumpets. She was doing her best not to stare at the different species of humanoids sitting at the tables around her. It was probably rude to do that in the Cassea sector.

“You’ll get used to it after a little while,” The Doctor told her.

“I’m not sure I could get used to this in a million years.”

“I wasn’t thinking of quite that long. But I thought you might knock about with me for a couple of months.”

“You want me to come along with you… to different planets and… different times… like my ancestor did?”

“I used to have friends with me, but they went home. I thought I’d be all right on my own, but the TARDIS disagrees. She thinks I need a friend with me, somebody to talk to, somebody to tell me off if I’m being too clever for my own good. The TARDIS decided you would do.”

“If I said no, would the TARDIS be upset?”

“Very likely,” The Doctor answered. “She’d probably blame me for scaring you off and refuse to go anywhere I want to go ever again.”

“My ancestor… he got back to the place he left… he must have done, or he wouldn’t be my ancestor. I mean… he didn’t get lost on Pluto or something….”

“It’s impossible to get lost on Pluto. There’s nothing there to lose yourself in.”

“You know what I mean. I like my job. I like being a tour guide. I like living in Scotland in the twenty-first century. I want to go back there eventually.”

“I can get you back five minutes after you left,” he promised.

“Well, make it a bit later. After you’ve stopped the bolides, at least. Oh dear, I hope the visitor centre is still standing. There will be a lot of mess to clean up.”

“I’ll bring you back in time to clear up the mess,” The Doctor promised. He smiled another of his wide, manic smiles. Jean wondered what she had let herself in for exactly.