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

Jean stood with her toes over the threshold of the TARDIS door and looked out at infinity, or as near to infinity as any Human being could ever hope to know. Below was a planet with a ring system that made Saturn look like the plain girl at the party, so iridescent it was with swirling crystals of multi-coloured ice. Above was what The Doctor called a maelstrom. It looked like a multi-coloured hurricane in space.

“What is it?” she asked. “What causes it to do that?”

“It’s dust sized fragments of a twin planet to the one below,” The Doctor explained. “It had rich deposits of almost every element in the known periodic table within the soil. When the planet was ripped apart by the gravitational pull of a super-comet it caused a solar wind that has continued to rage for a million years, moving the fragments around in an endless cyclone. The elements tend to be drawn to like elements, so you get that marble cake effect with the colours. That deep purple section is the manganese elements. The red would be iron and other ferrous elements.”

“Wow.” She was impressed not only by the maelstrom, but the fact that The Doctor understood about such things instinctively. He didn’t have to Google it or anything. “I mean... this is... well, it’s just WOW. Even NASA people don’t get to see this. “

“Glad you came?” The Doctor asked.

“Oh, definitely,” she answered. “Though I suppose it’s not always as peaceful as this. The way you took control of the situation at Culloden… I suppose you must be used to trouble.”

“Somehow it manages to find me,” The Doctor replied. “Even if I left the TARDIS in orbit right here you can bet something would come along and make trouble.”

Jean laughed, even though she knew he probably wasn’t joking.

She turned from the door and started back up the ramp. She paused mid-step and looked at something very small by her foot.

“What is it?” The Doctor asked.

“An insect of some sort,” Jean answered. “Tiny little thing, just a bit bigger than an ant. A sort of beetle, I think. I almost stepped on it. I always try not to kill insects, ever since I was at school and I read a story… a science fiction story about a space ship that crashed on a barren, dark planet with a hard, impenetrable surface. Those who survived the crash were first attacked by a huge, fierce creature, and then eventually killed by a poisonous mist. Then it turned out that their ship was football sized and had landed on a shelf in a wooden shed that looked like a great plain to them. The huge animal was a cat, and the poisonous mist was repellent that a Human had sprayed on the strange looking insects in his shed.”

The Doctor didn’t say anything. Jean wondered if he thought she was talking nonsense.

“Well, ever since, you know, every time I see an insect I wonder if it might be a tiny alien and try not to harm it.”

“Very commendable,” The Doctor told her. “I’ve had problems with the dimension chip now and again that miniaturise the TARDIS. I wouldn’t want to get stepped on casually. But insects shouldn’t really be on board the TARDIS. I wonder where it came from. We might need to take it back.”

“Take it back?” Jean looked at the tiny black creature that was making its slow way across the floor. “Why?”

“Did you ever read the more famous short story about the prehistoric butterfly whose demise changed the future catastrophically?” The Doctor asked her as he bent and studied the insect carefully. “For all we know this creature could be the ancestor of a race of intelligent beings who won’t be born unless it goes back where it started. Or conversely, its introduction into another environment might cause the demise of an entire species.”

“Like the grey squirrel driving out the red from Britain?” Jean suggested.

“Exactly,” The Doctor replied. “Imagine if we visited Earth in 10,000 years and found that humans had been driven to extinction by a new species of intelligent beings with black carapaces on their back and….”

He picked up the insect carefully on something that looked strangely like an intergalactic library card with a holographic picture of an old man in the corner. He held it on the palm of one hand while reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket. He extracted a large magnifying glass and examined the insect through it. His own eye looked comically large through the lens.

“Amazing!” he said. “Absolutely amazing. I’ve heard of them. But I’ve never seen one before. I never expected to see one. They’re so amazingly rare.”

“What is it?” Jean asked, bemused by his enthusiasm for the insect.

“It’s a computer bug,” he answered as if it was obvious.


“Do you know that before Charles Babbage developed the first mechanical ‘computer’ the word was used to describe a person who did calculations. It was a job description, like tailor, waiter, doctor. It wasn’t until much later that the word became associated with the machine, and the person who used it a computer operator.”

“I didn’t know that,” Jean admitted. “But….”

“This is a computer bug as in a bug that does computing. Look at it closely.”

She looked through the huge magnifying glass and her own eyes widened in surprise.

“Wow. Is that….”

“Yes, it is. The computer bug has a section of printed circuit on its carapace, a piece of information.”

“What information?”

“No idea,” The Doctor answered. “One bug only has part of the programme. It takes hundreds of thousands of them working together to produce anything that makes any sense.”

With that he carefully walked to the console, carrying the bug on the library card. He put it into a small receptacle on the information panel. It sat quietly, lifting its carapace from time to time and whirring its wings but apparently not bothered about flying away.

“It’s happy there,” The Doctor said. “It’s vibrating its wings in rhythm with the time rotor. It’s in sympathetic connection with the TARDIS.”

Jean didn’t know what a sympathetic connection was, but she decided she had asked enough questions now and watched The Doctor as he began programming their next destination in time and space. The idea that they could go just about anywhere and any time was still too big for her to encompass. He talked about amazing planets with singing mountains and oceans of steam, civilisations of two-headed philosophers. He talked about visiting the court of King Edward the Confessor and the castle of Llewellyn the Last, or the coronation of Queen Victoria.

He asked her where she would like to go, but the whole of time and space was so huge she couldn’t focus her mind on any one small part of it.

“Well, how about a bit of retail therapy in the megamall of Omnia Delta?” The Doctor suggested since she couldn’t think of anything else. “It’s three miles square with eighteen levels and you can buy ANYTHING there.”

She was about to say yes to that idea when a movement on the console drew her attention. She stepped closer and stared at the receptacle with the computer bug in it.

“Doctor, there’s two of them now,” she said.

“What? No, that can’t be right.” He moved around the console and looked at the receptacle curiously. “But…. Where did that one come from?”

“I don’t know, you’re the expert in weird stuff,” Jean replied. The Doctor didn’t respond. He had pulled his magnifying glass out again and was carefully examining the two bugs.

“Brilliant,” he said. “Absolutely brilliant. This second one’s markings continue the pattern… the printed circuit. We now have two pieces of information….”

“Four,” Jean said, a fraction of a moment before The Doctor exclaimed in surprise. The two bugs had each split into two. It had happened almost instantly. There was no obvious intermediate state, no stretching of the tiny bodies. They just duplicated themselves.

“Each with a unique piece of the circuit on their backs,” The Doctor confirmed. “The whole pattern must be imprinted in their DNA somehow and when they replicate, reproduce… whatever word you want to use for it…. they each take a part of the whole.”

“You seem surprised. I thought you knew about these things.”

“I knew they existed. But I have never seen one – let alone four….”


“That was faster than before.” The Doctor reached into another pocket and found a stopwatch. He waited until the eight bugs became sixteen, then timed them until the sixteen became thirty-two, then the thirty-two became sixty-four.

“Yes, it was two seconds faster that time,” he said.

Jean wasn’t listening. She was counting. Sixty four doubled would be one hundred and twenty-eight. Twice that was two hundred and fifty-six. Then five hundred and twelve, then one thousand and twenty four.

She gave up at that point.

“How many do you think they would need to complete the printed circuit?” she asked.

“I’m just wondering that myself,” The Doctor answered. “They’re each no more than three millimetres wide. Eighty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty three point three-three recurring would cover a quarter of a square metre.”

Jean was still doubling one thousand and twenty-four in her head when The Doctor came up with that amazing figure. She was tempted to find a calculator and check that he was correct, but she knew instinctively that it would be a waste of time.

“That would be rather bigger than most printed circuits, wouldn’t it?” Jean asked. “And after all, microchips… even the SIM card in my phone is about the size of my thumbnail….”

“Yes, but your phone isn’t a living creature,” The Doctor pointed out. “On the whole, I think they’re doing all right.”

He lifted the now very full receptacle and placed it on the TARDIS floor again. Very soon the insects overflowed from it. There was no chance of counting them manually now. The Doctor glanced at the lifesigns monitor and reported how many thousands of insect lifeforms were aboard the TARDIS.

Jean took his word for it.

“How did they happen?” she asked. “How did they get like this? I mean… you know Charles Darwin….”

“Met him many times,” The Doctor answered.

“Of course you have,” Jean responded with a strong element of sarcasm in her voice. “But… you know about the finches with different beaks adapted to their environment… the thing that gave him the idea about evolution.”

“With a hint or two setting him in the right direction.”

“Well, naturally. But the minister at the kirk when I was a girl used to always say that Darwin was wrong. The finches didn’t prove evolutionary diversity. They proved that God’s creation was limitless and wonderful. And… I think if the Minister saw these bugs, he’d be convinced that it was the wonderful work of God. But Darwin would be stumped, because it seems utterly unbelievable that these creatures evolved this way.”

The Doctor looked at her for a long time before answering her.

“Do you know there is a beetle in South America that exclusively eats processed chocolate. Not the beans on the tree, but the refined product made by Humans. That would give Darwin some thought, too. What did it eat before humans found out what to do with cocoa beans?”

Jean thought about that.

“The minister would say it was God’s hand at work, the same as these creatures. But that seems too easy an answer. As for Darwin…. I don’t know what he’d say.”

“Perhaps we should keep chocolate eating beetles and computer bugs out of the argument,” The Doctor said. “It would only muddy the waters for both sides.”

“Probably. But… which of them is right? I always thought it was Darwin, but looking at these creatures, I can’t help wondering… is there an intelligent design behind the universe after all?”

“Ah,” The Doctor replied. “You’re asking me for answers to the great mysteries of Creation?”


“That would come under forbidden knowledge, and there are some rules even I don’t break.”

Jean looked at him for a moment then smiled widely.

“You mean you don’t actually know,” she told him. “You’re not COMPLETELY all-knowing.”

The Doctor didn’t answer that, but Jean thought she had put the finger on it.

She turned her attention to what was either an example of God’s infinite wonder or evolution’s greatest achievement. The bugs were still increasing in number, and as they multiplied they moved around in a complicated dance until they were lined up in tight formation. Slowly a space more like half a square metre and containing hundreds of thousands of bugs was an unbroken glossy black. The lines of the printed circuit on their backs could be seen now as fine silvery lines.

“It’s finished,” Jean whispered in an awestruck voice. “It’s… wow… it’s beautiful.”

“It’s more than beautiful,” The Doctor said. “It’s functional, too.”

“But what is its function?”

“It’s a plug and play hardware add-on. Look.”

Jean looked. A black line was threading out from the solid rectangle. It was more of the insects linked together head to tail. The line rapidly stretched towards the console. It snaked up the side towards the navigation console where it plugged itself into a slot. For a moment nothing happened. Jean heard The Doctor say something about ‘new hardware detected’ and ‘installing driver’.

It must have done that successfully, because the silver lines all lit up as if by a power source. The TARDIS console lit, too, and it hummed faintly. The ‘plug and play’ add on was working. Information was being downloaded to the navigation rive.

Then the time rotor began to rise and fall and there was the sensation of movement that Jean was only just getting used to. The TARDIS was in flight. She looked at the round viewscreen. She had already grasped that the swirling tunnel that vaguely reminded her of an advert for Gaviscon was the TARDIS travelling in time. She had heard The Doctor call it the ‘vortex’ which made a kind of sense. She had some kind of idea that blue was back in time to what was known and familiar and ‘safe’, and red was for the uncertain future.

But the vortex was turning every colour of the spectrum from fiery orange to deep purple like a bruise. The colours swirled and churned, span like Catherine Wheels and arced and spat like an electrical fault.

“What’s happening?” Jean asked. “Is the TARDIS out of control?”

“No, it’s absolutely under control,” The Doctor answered. “Just not under MY control. The bugs put a new destination into the time-space drive, and we’re going somewhere neither she nor I have ever been before.”

“Where’s that?”

“I don’t know. Isn’t that amazing? We’re going somewhere absolutely new, somewhere not even a Time Lord has been before.”

“It’s… terrifying. I came along with you because I thought you knew how to fly this old machine, and that I’d be safe with you, even in the middle of some adventure. But now you’re telling me you don’t even know where the TARDIS is going. I’m… well, I’m scared, frankly.”

The Doctor looked at her seriously. Of course, she was still new to his life aboard the TARDIS, and although she had the sort of courage he liked to see in his companions, he couldn’t just assume she was all right.

Especially when he was a little bit scared himself. He really wasn’t sure WHAT the TARDIS was doing or where exactly they were going. This wasn’t something he had any control over and it was, frankly, scary.

“Oh,” he exclaimed as the TARDIS finally emerged from the vortex. “Oh, I see. It’s a micro-galaxy.”

“It’s a what?” Jean responded.

“A micro-galaxy. A galaxy is….”

“A bunch of stars,” Jean suggested.

“More than a bunch,” The Doctor replied. “A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. Examples of galaxies range from dwarfs with as few as ten million stars to giants with a hundred trillion stars, each orbiting their galaxy's own centre of mass.”

“That sounds like the Wikipedia definition,” Jean pointed out. “So, let me try. Micro… from the Greek mikrós… meaning small, used as a prefix to indicate relative size of an object or collection of objects.”

The Doctor said nothing, but there was a faint smile on his lips.

“So a micro-galaxy is a small galaxy… one with as few as ten million stars – no, that’s called a dwarf galaxy. See, I was paying attention when you were showing off. So a micro-galaxy would have to be a… a galaxy where the stars, planets, gas clouds and….

“Dark matter….” The Doctor prompted.

“Where everything was really small,” Jean finished. She looked at the viewscreen. They were moving through a solar system with a yellow sun at the centre. There was a planet in the immediate view that they were slowly passing. It looked about the same size as a football, but that was probably because they were still a long way from it. “It all looks perfectly normal. At least as far as I can recognise normal in outer space, in my limited experience.”

“It looks normal because we passed through the interstice between a regular galaxy, the Milky Way, where your planet is, and where all other planets conform to the same dimensions as Earth and most intelligent beings are roughly the same size even though they differ in shape and temperament….”

“I always thought that was because the costume designers on Star Trek lacked imagination,” Jean interrupted. The Doctor’s eyes narrowed in disgust before he went on.

“We’ve crossed into the micro-galaxy where dimensions are considerably smaller. We are possibly the only people who could make that transition. Any ordinary space craft attempting it would be crushed to a singularity. Even the TARDIS would be in trouble without the special co-ordinates the computer bugs put into the drive.”

Jean thought about it all for a minute then drew her own conclusions.

“We’ve been miniaturised so that we fit into the micro-galaxy,” she said. “That’s what the ‘relative dimensions’ thing means.”


“Ok, I’m trying to be calm about that. Because I’m assuming we have a way of getting OUT of the micro-galaxy and back to normal size again. If you give me a guarantee that we can do that, then I think I can manage not to regret ever stepping aboard this ship of yours.”

“You’ll take my word for it?”

“Yes, I suppose I will.”

The Doctor put on his most sincere face.

“Of course we can get back. It’s simply a matter of reversing the… the polarity… of the… the…. Yes, we can get back to normal space and our normal dimensions. But first, there’s something we have to do.”

“There is? What?”

“I don’t know. But we weren’t brought here for a sightseeing trip. There has to be a reason why the computer bugs were sent to us. Somebody here needs my help.”

“Who, and where?”

“I suspect it is somebody on that planet, there. We’ve been drawing close to it all along while we were talking. The TARDIS is about to go into final materialisation at its plotted destination.”

The time rotor went up and down rapidly and an organic-mechanical sound that Jean was becoming familiar with came from deep within the TARDIS. The Doctor put his hands on the console, but there was very little to do. His machine was under the control of the computer bugs, still. He was a very little bit frustrated by that. It was HIS TARDIS and he understood it best. He didn’t like it being controlled by somebody or something else.

The view of the planet in space dissolved and slowly resolved into a large white room with a domed roof of some kind of crystalline substance that let in soft, diffused light.

“Interesting,” The Doctor said. “I think I’ve been somewhere like this before.” He reached for the door control and then bounded across the floor. Jean followed a little more cautiously. She had seen the people who inhabited the room, and they definitely qualified as her first alien looking aliens.

“Jean, come and meet Xomab and Borapoz,” The Doctor said as she stepped out of the TARDIS into the white room. “They genetically engineered the computer bugs. That settles the whole Evolution versus Intelligent Design argument, doesn’t it? We forgot the third possibility – science.”

“Yes,” Jean agreed. “But how do you know all that? I was right behind you. There was no chance of a conversation about genetic engineering.”

She looked at the people called Xomab and Borapoz. They were dressed in white except for blue bands across the front of their robes. They had high domed bald heads with whisps of white hair either side of the temples and white moustaches that hung around their very small mouths. Their eyes, set above high and pronounced cheekbones squinted as if they didn’t see very well.

“They’re Sensorites,” The Doctor explained. “They communicate telepathically with beings who are receptive to such communication. They will talk to you, but it takes much longer.”

“I see,” Jean responded. “Well, they look all right here. It’s all very… Greek… like a temple, very peaceful. There doesn’t seem to be a crisis here.”

“A prison may be a beautiful and peaceful place,” Xomab replied in a soft monotone. “But it is still a prison. We are trapped here in micro-space, unable to return to the Sensosphere that was our home unless we could reach a Time Lord with a dimensionally relative capsule who could bring us back to the normal universe.”

“They were explorers, and they explored a bit too successfully,” The Doctor added. “But I think I can help bring them home.”

“So this is a rescue mission. Great. Is it just the two of them, or is there a whole crew?”

The Doctor looked at Borapoz who was obviously communicating with him.

“There are something like thirty-thousand of them. They want me to bring the whole planet back to normal space. They’ve worked out the calculations. The computer bugs can relay them to the TARDIS. It’s easy peasy, really.”

“Easy peasy?”

“Relatively speaking.”

“Ok, let’s get on with it, then. How long will it take?”

Again The Doctor communed telepathically with the two scientists.

“An hour, give or take,” he answered. “It’ll be a bit boring for you. We’ll be talking telepathically most of the time. Borapoz suggests that you go and take a walk in the garden. It’s very pleasant. Keep an eye on the time, though. Be back in the TARDIS before we’re ready to leave.”

“Ok, Doctor,” Jean said. Borapoz indicated an arched doorway that opened at a wave of his hand. She stepped out into a garden that would have given a set designer for a production of Alice in Wonderland a run for his money. It was stunningly lovely with roses as big as giant sunflowers and topiary pruned into pagodas and mysterious looking animals among its glories. The garden was tended by more of the Sensorites who waved as she walked by under a cool blue sky in which a red and purple marbled moon and a yellow sun appeared at the same time.

The Doctor watched her go then set to work alongside the two scientists, preparing for the transportation of a whole planet back to normal space.

Jean returned from her walk a few minutes before he was ready.

“Excellent timing,” he said. “Hop aboard. We’re heading home any minute.”

“All right, Doctor,” Jean said. “Can I have a quick word with you, though? It’s kind of important.”

“More important than rescuing a whole colony of Sensorites from exile?” he asked.

“No, maybe not. But it’s something I need to tell you before we go. Please, Doctor, just step into the TARDIS for a moment.”

She crossed the threshold into the safety of a dozen or more anti-transmat shields and other protections. The Doctor followed her.

“You know how I’m just Human, so not telepathic at all.”


“But being on board the TARDIS means I soak up a lot of harmless radiation that lets me understand languages and means I don’t need a fish in my ear or a translation device or whatever.”


“And I’m descended from that man, Jamie McCrimmon, who also soaked up a lot of the same radiation, so much that your TARDIS still knew I was related to him.”

“Yes. Jean, this is… not really as important as rescuing the Sensorite colony.”

“I’m getting to the point now,” she assured him. “Doctor, I think the combination of inherited radiation and being in the TARDIS has enabled me to be a bit telepathic, too. Out there in the garden, I could sort of understand the Sensorites. I knew what they were all thinking about.”

“Wow, that’s… impressive,” The Doctor agreed. “A side effect I never expected. But still not as important as rescuing the colony.”

“It is, when I tell you what they were all thinking,” Jean insisted. “Doctor, listen….”

He listened. Then he thought about it for a while. Then he grinned in his manic way.

“I’ve got a plan,” he said. “You stay in here. I don’t want Bibblebob and Xazzy out there reading your mind. It’s just as well they were too busy putting up mental walls to stop me seeing what they were up to. They haven’t realised what you know.”

He dashed outside again and told Xomab and Borapoz to prepare for lift off. Then he dashed in again and carefully adjusted the settings on one panel of the console before running around maniacally, pressing buttons and pulling levers. Then he stopped and pushed one button very deliberately. On the viewscreen the white room dissolved. The micro-galaxy solar system resolved again, but this time the planet was missing.

“Wow.” Jean looked around and saw the planet, the size of a football, enclosed in a sparkling bubble of what might have been glass or a balloon or something as insubstantial as soap. It was suspended in mid-air above the console.

“All part of the original plan,” The Doctor explained. “The planet can safely travel back to normal-space within the relative dimensions of the TARDIS before being left in the habitable orbit region of an otherwise uncolonised sun where the natural gamma and ultra-violet radiation will cause the planet and all on it, animal, vegetable and mineral, to grow to normal size. Job done.”

“Yes,” Jean said. “I understand that perfectly. But….”

“But they lied to me. They aren’t a peaceful exploratory group. They’re a prison colony, sent away from the Sensosphere for treason.”

“Of course, some people get called traitors when they just want to reform a bad government,” Jean pointed out. “Somebody like Ai Weiwei, for example…..”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “Believe me, I know the difference between a traitor and a political dissident. I know very well. But this lot are just criminals. They plotted against a good government who were merciful to them and instead of putting them into dungeons in chains or executing them, let them live on a paradise world within the micro-universe where they were free to make whatever they could of their lives.”

“And if you had set them free, they would have gone back and made war on the government which exiled them.”


“But we’re still taking them back.”

“Yes. I promised. I can’t go back on a promise.”

“Even though it was a trick and you fell for it.”

“Even though it WAS a trick and I fell for it.”

“You aren’t going to let them win are you?”

“Of course not. I told you I had a plan. First, we go right back to normal space. Polarity reversed, and leave it to the computer bugs.”

And that was exactly what happened while the vortex arced and spat in every colour of the spectrum once again. Finally the TARDIS emerged into a black starfield once more. The computer bugs stopped glowing. The Doctor took control of the TARDIS again. They entered the vortex once more and it swirled a cool blue for a very short while. When they emerged again they were in another solar system, not unlike the micro-galaxy one.

“This is the habitable zone of a solar system with only two planets, one well inside the roasting hot zone near the sun and one out on the cold edge of the system. There’s a stable but very thick asteroid belt that keeps most intergalactic explorers from venturing into the system. This penal colony will be happily undisturbed here.”

“But they still win. They have what they want.”

“Everything except the means to travel beyond the planet and wreak their revenge on the Sensosphere. And they won’t be allowed to do that. Look.”

Jean looked. The computer bugs were disbanding. They lifted their carapaces and whirred their wings before taking off. They hovered around the outer skin protecting the planet then they penetrated it. They flew through the mini-atmosphere.

“Oh,” Jean said as she understood. “On the planet, they’ll be huge – elephant sized. And when you set the planet in orbit out there….”

“They’ll be the prison warders. Kind prison warders, I might add. If the colony continues to do nothing but feed itself and replenish its population each generation, they’ll do nothing but help them with their harvests and lend a hand with construction. But if any of them get ideas about space travel, the bugs will literally squash them.”

“You arranged that?”


“Remind me not to get on your bad side. I wouldn’t want to be bossed about by giant insects.”

The Doctor grinned widely.

“Well, that’s them sorted. Let’s go and get some dinner at the Omnicron Psi orbiting restaurant and then we’ll see what other trouble we can get into today.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jean answered.

“It is, as long as you don’t wander into the live meat section of the restaurant.”

Jean wondered if he was joking or not and decided she didn’t care.