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

“Doctor, this is definitely not the Isle of Bute in the twenty-first century,” Jean Ferguson stated as an absolute fact. “The significant detail about the Isle of Bute is the Isle bit. It’s, you know, surrounded by water, not mountains.”

It was a nice bit of countryside, Jean would have admitted if she wasn’t teasing The Doctor about his bad navigation. The TARDIS was perched on the side of a heather covered slope that ran down into a valley and rose up again on the other side. It was, her A.level geography told her, a U-shaped valley, formed by glacial action many millennia ago. She could see the sun glittering off a river that was too narrow to have formed such a wide valley by itself and a larger expanse of water to the west, a loch formed by the meltwaters of that glacier eons ago.

“The spatial-temporal regulator is out of synch,” The Doctor explained. “I think it slipped a couple of cogs when we were surfing the Nexon Solar Winds. We’ve drifted temporally and spatially.”

“In other words, we’re in the wrong place and time?”

“But it’s definitely Scotland,” he added in defence of his navigation and the TARDIS’s temperamental caprices.

“Definitely Scotland?” Jean’s tone was a little more scathing now. “I hope you’re going on more than the fact that we’re standing on a heather-covered slope. Heather isn’t exclusive to Scotland, no matter what the writers of folk ballads might think. They have valleys in Wales, and Ireland. And the Pennines are a pretty impressive mountain range in England. Heather grows around all of those places. For that matter….” She looked up at the sky. It was blue, with a small yellow sun in the position it ought to be about mid-afternoon in the British Isles in early summer when the heather she knew so much about from personal experience was at its best.

Even so….

“It might not even be Earth. It might be a really nice Scottish looking planet somewhere in the Andromeda sector.”

“Impossible,” The Doctor insisted. “Absolutely impossible. There are no Scottish looking planets in the Andromeda sector. They all look like North-Africa. Andromeda Fourteen looks SO much like it that in the twenty-sixth century they filmed a remake of Ice Cold in Alex there.”

Jean gave The Doctor a scowl that so reminded him of her distant ancestor, Jamie McCrimmon, that he felt a twinge of nostalgia.

“It IS Scotland,” he assured her. “It smells like Scotland. It….” He bent and plucked a sprig of heather and licked it. “Tastes like Scotland.”

“Serve you right if a Scottish sheep had a wee on that,” Jean told him. He grinned and pinned the sprig to the lapel of his tweed jacket. “And don’t think I’m going to be convinced by THAT, either. You can’t TASTE Scotland in anything except a bottle of Talisker.”

“What I’m not sure about is the century,” The Doctor continued, oblivious of Jean’s criticisms. She was disappointed, of course. She really did want to visit her family in Bute, and they had taken three diversions already, two of them to answer distress calls, the other because it was tea time. He owed it to her to get this one right, and it had gone completely wrong.

“The century?” Jean queried. “So this might not even be the right time?”

“That’s the thing about Scotland,” The Doctor admitted. “The really quiet bits don’t change. This could be any time from the end of the ice age to the forty-fifth century. After that the artificial second moon is a dead giveaway, of course. But before then, these valleys…. Timeless.”

“Well,” Jean summarised. “We have two options, then. We can get back into the TARDIS and go, or we can take a walk up this hill and see if the next valley is a bit more populated than this one.”

“Which would you rather do?” The Doctor asked her, knowing that his companions liked to be asked about these sort of decisions even if he overrode them and went with his own choice.

“I SHOULD insist on going back into the TARDIS and getting back on course,” she answered. “But I’m actually going to vote for a brisk walk up the hill. You never know, we might find the A560 on the other side and a nice roadside café doing home cooked Scottish food.”

With that, Jean took the initiative and set off uphill. She was wearing slacks and a jumper and suitable shoes for walking, with a jacket slung over her shoulder in case of sudden weather change. She was well equipped for an easy ramble in the sort of countryside she had known all her life. The Doctor actually felt a little bit as if he was following her lead as she found a natural path in the heather and gorse covered ground.

The Doctor kept up with her pace easily and they reached the top of the ridge within an hour. Jean looked back down to where the TARDIS was parked and then walked on across the top of the broad-backed hill to look down into the valley beyond it.

“It looks exactly like the one we just came up from,” Jean commented as she viewed another u-shaped valley with a river winding its way into a loch.

“EXACTLY like it!” The Doctor remarked. He shielded his eyes and squinted into the distance. “Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. Ohhhh….”

He turned and sprinted back across the ridge. Jean followed him, wondering what had caused that strangely protracted exclamation of dismay.

The valley they had come up from was full of a swirling mist – literally full. Only the very peaks of the opposite mountains were visible. The mist came right up to the toes of The Doctor’s shoes, and something about it made Jean step away. She felt that getting her feet in it would be dangerous.

“Where did that come from?” she demanded. “The sky is clear. Half an hour ago it was fine. We can’t even see the TARDIS.”

“Yes, we can,” The Doctor replied in a resigned tone. He took her hand gently and walked back to the new valley, the one she thought looked just like the one they had left. “Look.”

He pointed to the craggy ridge of hillside across the valley. Jean gasped. A small blue object nestled amongst the shades of green and purple.


“How did it get there?” Jean asked.

“It’s where we left it,” The Doctor answered. “There is a spatial trap in this valley. Anyone trying to get out of it finds themselves coming back in, and there is no way back.”

“A spatial trap?” Jean looked at The Doctor and knew he was about to explain something complex. “Never mind. Assume I get it. What do we do? That is a really long walk now. The sort I wouldn’t do without a map, compass, pacamac and food and drink.”

“There is a habitation down there by the loch,” The Doctor said. “We couldn’t see it from the other side because of that stand of trees. We’ll head there and talk to the locals. See if they know anything about this. At worst we can take a rest and then head back to the TARDIS. Getting out of a temporary trap is a bumpy ride, and I’ll have to recalibrate EVERYTHING afterwards, but it’s not impossible.”

“Ok,” Jean agreed. “Ok, that’s a plan.”

An easy ramble with the TARDIS within easy reach was one thing, though. Picking their way carefully down hill to a house that might not have anyone in, and might not even be welcoming to them, in a valley where normal rules of physics didn’t apply, was another. Jean could not, in all honesty, say she enjoyed the trek. She glanced often towards that far ridge where the TARDIS looked like a toy on a high shelf, tantalisingly, frustratingly, out of reach. The Doctor looked even more often. Jean noticed that. Being parted from his ship in such a way was bothering him a lot.

“We can still see it,” she reminded him. “It’s a long walk, and we’ll be worn out by the time we get there. But it’s not as if we’ve lost it.”

“We’ll lose sight of the TARDIS when we’re at the bottom of the valley,” The Doctor answered her. “Those trees will obscure the view. But that’s not the problem. I’m wondering… if there’s a spatial trap here… will we be able to reach it at all? When we start going uphill again will we find ourselves back on this side again with the TARDIS on the other slope?”

“Can that happen?” Jean asked.

“Yes. Spatial traps are like that. The landscape is manipulated to keep its prisoners from escaping.”

“Prisoners?” Jean shivered. The word conjured up walls and bars, locked doors. But was it possible that a beautiful place like this could also be a prison?

“Prisoners,” The Doctor repeated with emphasis. “Yes, even a lovely place like this can be a prison.”

“Valleys like this… or even the islands… used to feel like it to some people,” Jean noted. “Before digital TV, when it was near impossible to get a signal and there was no mains gas or electricity, water from pumps in the yard, and it was like being fifty years behind everywhere else, a rural place could be a prison for the mind. That’s why so many people left for the cities. I mean, of course, the Clearances did a lot of that in the nineteenth century, but rock and roll radio and automatic washing machines did for the rest in the twentieth century.”

“Yes.” The Doctor nodded as if he fully understood the sentiment. Jean was surprised. The Doctor had the freedom of the universe at his fingertips, after all. “It’s why I first left my home a very long time ago. I knew there were people out there beyond the Transduction Barrier who thought differently to those on my planet. Yes, even people who played rock and roll. We certainly didn’t. Yes, I fully understand about prisons of the mind.”

“But this isn’t one of those. We were just philosophising to pass the time as we walked. “This valley is a physical prison, isn’t it, just as if there were walls and bars, locks and prison guards.”



“Good question,” The Doctor responded, even though she hadn’t asked one. Jean decided not to ask the question that WAS half formed in her mind. She really just hoped there WERE some people in the valley. Otherwise she and The Doctor might be the prisoners this trap was sprung upon.

They could be stuck here forever.

Well, not forever - for a lifetime.

A lifetime in a - possibly - Scottish valley with The Doctor. The prospect was worrying. Not because The Doctor wasn’t perfectly good company. She knew he was smart and resourceful. He would probably turn into the last boy scout and build a shelter, forage for food, make medicines from wild plants, all of that sort of thing. They could live all right.

But the prospect frightened her all the same. She looked at the distant slope where the TARDIS really was becoming obscured by the trees as they dropped lower into the valley. She looked at the purple-green ridge so sharply defined against the sky it could have been a cardboard cut-out.

And she felt a wave of claustrophobia overwhelm her, along with a sharp pang of homesickness for her island birthplace that she hadn’t felt for a very long time.

“Don’t,” The Doctor said to her in a quiet tone. “Don’t be homesick. It makes me feel that way, too. And… it’s a well known fact that homesickness gets worse the further you are from home. And… for me, that’s a very long way and a very long time, and impossible.”

Jean was startled by just how despondent The Doctor was. In the face of all kinds of danger he could literally whoop with laughter. He had the answer for everything. He was never beaten.

But this was hurting him.

“Doctor….” Jean reached out her hand to his. He turned to look at her and a smile turned up his lips, though his deep, expressive eyes still seemed old and tired and sad. Then he pulled her closer. They hugged, not amorously, not as if any sudden urge had come across either of them, but like the best friends either had ever had.

“Jean, I promise, we WILL get out of here, and the very next place we are going is the Isle of Bute to see your family and friends,” he assured her. “On my honour as a Time Lord.”

“I believe you,” she told him. “Come on. We’d better get on down to the river. I’m starting to feel a bit sticky and hot. It would be nice to dip our feet in some cool water.”

The Doctor smiled widely, looking more himself again.

“That’s if dipping your feet in a river isn’t beneath that Time Lord honour,” she teased him gently.

“Not at all,” he responded good naturedly. “This Time Lord at least has been known to ‘dip’.”

Then his smile was wiped from his face. He screamed in pain as he tripped and fell into a thick clump of gorse. Jean was on the point of chastising him for a wimp when she saw his left ankle caught in the ugly teeth of a huge animal trap. The foot was twisted painfully as he fell and the rusting iron kept him captive.

“Who sets a filthy thing like that?” Jean demanded as she knelt and tried to prise the two sections of the trap apart. It was too strong for her to open it with her bare hands. She looked around for a stick, but there was nothing within reach and she hardly dared move in case there were more of those things. “You’re stuck, fast, Doctor. I don’t know what to do.”

“Sonic screwdriver,” he told her. He fumbled for his strange tool with hands that were trembling badly. His ankle must have been hurting him terribly. The teeth were really digging in. Any small animal that had sprung that trap would have been near decapitated. He found the sonic, but his hands were shaking too much. He passed it to her with the instruction ‘psi, delta, four.’ She didn’t understand until she noted a very small panel on the side and a scroll pad that changed the three figures on it. After 0-9 and the ordinary twenty-six character alphabet she knew the Greek alphabet was part of the sequence. She closed her eyes for a moment and recalled from their Olympia adventure exactly how the Greek alphabet went. She found psi and delta then scrolled through to four. The sonic screwdriver buzzed in a different tone.

“It’ll work on metal now,” he said through gritted teeth.

“This is going to hurt,” Jean told him.

“I know. That’s why I’m gritting my teeth,” he answered through his clamped down mouth sounding for all the world like a bad ventriloquist. “Just do it, please, before my foot falls off.”

Jean applied the sonic to the trap. It sprang back. The Doctor groaned through his own teeth as the iron ones pulled out of his ankle taking chunks of his flesh with them. The deep wounds bled even more. As she examined it carefully Jean was sure she could see ligament and bone in the ragged holes left behind.

“Yes, it went deep,” The Doctor said. “This is bad, even for me. Time was, my body would repair itself quickly. But I’m old. Most Time Lords in their eleventh regeneration would have retired to be librarians in the Citadel by now. Nobody even gets paper cuts in an electronic library.”

He was talking through the pain. Jean found a clean handkerchief in her pocket and made a makeshift and barely adequate bandage that wouldn’t have won any girl guide first aid badges.

“What do we do?” she asked. “You can’t walk far like that. And I can’t leave you. I don’t want to leave you. We still don’t even know if this IS Earth. We don’t know how long it is until nightfall. You’ll die on your own out here.”

“I won’t,” The Doctor assured her. “Time Lords have a couple of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to survival. But I don’t want to stay here, either. We know there’s a house not far away. If you help me, I can walk slowly. We’ll stay together.”

She was glad he said that, because she really didn’t want to go on alone, even if there was a chance of finding help. She wasn’t sure there would be.

“There MUST be somebody around,” The Doctor pointed out. “Somebody set the trap.”

“Oh, of course.” Jean wondered why that didn’t occur to her. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure she wanted to meet the person who set traps like that. He might not be particularly friendly.

Suppose he was a cannibal?

“Now you’re letting your imagination run away with you,” The Doctor told her. It was several minutes later before she realised she hadn’t spoken that thought aloud. By then, she was helping The Doctor to hobble along. He held his sonic screwdriver in his free hand and waved it in front of him. Several times they heard a clang as traps sprung.

“Our trap setter won’t want to traipse all over,” The Doctor pointed out. “We’re not far.”

It was far enough with The Doctor hardly able to put his wounded leg on the ground. He did his best not to make a fuss, but the handkerchief was soaked in blood. Jean noted that his blood was a lot lighter than Human blood, but not green or blue like the more unpleasant aliens portrayed on TV.

“Blue and green blood is less common than you would imagine,” The Doctor told her. “It’s usually only found in species that breathe nitrogen rather than oxygen. My own blood… has no haemoglobin. Our bodies don’t need it. We produce an enzyme from the pineal gland that performs the same function.”

Jean thought he was talking just to stop himself from fainting.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “And, yes, I am reading your thoughts. The high levels of adrenaline my body is producing heighten my telepathic nerves, and make it impossible not to feel your thoughts. It will stop once I’m a bit calmer and in a bit less pain.”

“Good,” Jean told him. “It’s a bit disturbing.”

He went quiet for a while. Jean looked at him. His eyes were strangely glazed and when she spoke to him he had to force himself to answer.

“Doctor, I don’t like this at all,” she said. “You’re losing a LOT of blood and this must be hurting you like crazy. I think we’re going to have to stop, soon.”

“We’re close,” he insisted. “Just… a little way more.”

He took another ten steps and then fainted. He was dead weight in her arms. Jean let him down gently onto the ground. His face was pale – even paler than usual. His lips had blood on them. She panicked at first, then realised he had bitten his bottom lip in the effort to withstand the pain in his ankle.

“What am I going to do?” she whispered. Then she did the only thing she could do.

She screamed, loudly, calling out for help at the top of her voice. She kept on screaming except once, when The Doctor seemed to be coming around. She heard him say something like ‘don’t be scared, Victoria’. But when she looked again he was still in a dead faint.

Then she wished she hadn’t used the word ‘dead’. What if he did die? What would she do, then?

Don’t be silly, she told herself. People don’t die of leg wounds.

They do if they don’t get help, she answered herself.

Then she screamed again.

This time her scream was answered. She heard a male voice call out, and a man came towards her. He was late middle aged, rough looking in clothes that could use a good wash and a face that had been exposed to the weather every day for a long time. He was carrying a shotgun in the ‘broken’ position for safety.

“Help me,” she said. “Help him. He was hurt by a trap…one of yours, I suppose. You’d better help him or….”

Or what? He could just as easily walk off again. To her relief, he didn’t. He lifted The Doctor across his back in something a little like a ‘fireman’s lift’ and told her to follow him. Jean followed. She had no choice.

It was only a very short walk to the cottage near the river that they had seen from the top of the ridge, but Jean knew The Doctor didn’t have that short walk left in him when he fainted. They wouldn’t have made it without help. She wasn’t at all sure about the man who had come to their aid, but the prospect of being indoors when night fell, of some kind of medical care for The Doctor, a bed at least while he rested, was a relief. Food and drink would be good, too. She realised just how hungry and thirsty she was as she stepped into the cottage and smelt something cooking.

But The Doctor came first. The stranger brought him to a room on the right hand side of the main room. It was a bedroom with two old single beds in it. They had rather threadbare blankets and thin mattresses, but they were beds all the same. He laid The Doctor down on one of them and then left the room. Jean wondered what to do. Should she undress him? That was much more up close and personal than she had been hitherto, despite travelling across the galaxy alone in with him in the TARDIS. She compromised by taking off his boots and socks and jacket and setting them aside. She took the braces and belt from his trousers. She figured he would be more comfortable without them, but that was as far as she was prepared to go at this stage in their relationship.

He looked paler than ever. Even his lips seemed bloodless now and his closed eyes sunk into the sockets. The shape of his skull beneath his flesh was pronounced.

The stranger returned with rolled up, yellowish but clean rags and a bowl of something sticky that smelt vaguely herbal.

“Put that on the wound,” he said in a gruff voice. “It will prevent infection. Is he your husband?”

“Yes,” Jean replied quickly. It seemed like the most sensible thing to say to a male stranger in the middle of nowhere. If he thought she was married….

Besides, what other reason did she have for being there with him?

“He’s called John. I’m Jean,” she said. “Ferguson. John and Jean Ferguson.”

Suddenly going around with a man simply called The Doctor didn’t make sense. He needed a name. She gave him her father’s. She didn’t think either of them would mind.

“Morton Assheton,” the stranger replied. “When you’re done, come through. I’ll give you some food.”

She thanked him. He left the room. Jean set about applying the strange smelling poultice to The Doctor’s wounds and bandaging his ankle rather better than she managed before. The rags looked as if they had been boil-washed, which would make them as sterile as it was possible to get in these circumstances. They would do.

She put a blanket over The Doctor and left him. Rest was the best thing for him, now. She returned to the main room. It was strangely recognisable. It looked like the ‘traditional’ cottage at the Culloden Heritage Park. This middle room was the main living area of the house. It had two high backed chairs drawn close to the fireplace which was the cooking facility with a chain hanging down on which to hook a cooking pot. At the back of the room was a rough table with two more chairs and a cupboard for a larder.

The other room would be the main bedroom. And that was it. There would be a ‘privy’ or ‘outhouse’ or whatever word served to describe something that almost certainly wouldn’t be connected to any sewage system and possibly a pump for clean water, though more than likely it was brought directly from the river.

There was obviously no electricity. Wax candles and an oil lamp hanging over the door provided light when the sun went down.

It was like stepping back a hundred years and two or three social classes and Jean wasn’t sure she was going to find it in any way quaint or homely. She just knew she was going to hate that outhouse, for a start.

But for the time being, it was all she had, and it was better than nothing.

Assheton told her to sit at the table then he found a pair of rough wooden bowls and ladled a sort of stew from the pot on the fire. He gave one of the bowls to Jean along with a spoon that looked clean enough to eat with. She was hungry, so she ate. The meat in the stew was stringy. She asked what it was.

“Rabbit,” Assheton answered.

“Caught in one of your traps?” Jean queried.

“Do you know a better way to get meat?”

In the frozen food section at Morrisons, Jean thought, but didn’t say aloud. In any case, that wasn’t necessarily a better way, just an easier one. If Assheton was confined in the valley as The Doctor had suggested, then it was obviously his only means of finding food.

“All the same, leaving traps all over the place, where people might get hurt….”

“What people?” Assheton answered. “I have been alone here for twenty-five years. You are the first people to come here, and I’ve yet to know how you got here.”

“It was… accidental,” Jean answered him. “I don’t entirely know how it happened. The… I mean… John can explain it better when he’s up and about. He… he’s the technical one.”

She kept quiet about the TARDIS. It was possible he had not seen it, concealed by the trees in the lower part of the valley. She felt, instinctively, that it would be better kept secret for now.

“Look….” She decided that she ought to lay some of their cards on the table, at least. “John knows about a lot of things I don’t. He explained about the spatial trap. You can’t leave this valley. He said it was a prison… so that would make you the prisoner….”

“Very clever man, your husband,” Assheton commented.

“Yes, he is,” Joan answered.

“This is Gleann an Thréig,” Assheton added. “Do you know what that means in English?”

“Glen of the forgotten… or… foresaken if you feel poetic about it.”

“Exactly. I was sent here to be forgotten about.”

There was a long pause then Jean felt she had to say something.

“Look, I know there are people who deserve to go to prison, and others who are wrongly convicted. There are people who are imprisoned for political views or… or for acting according to their conscience….”

“I deserved to be imprisoned.” Assheton answered her. “I deserved to be left here and forgotten.”

That was as much as he was prepared to say. Jean didn’t feel she had the right to question him further, even if she wanted to. Twenty-five years, he said. So it must have been something serious, like murder.

Unless he came from a society with very extreme penalties for simple crimes.

“Your husband will need food,” Assheton said after another long silence. “I’ll put some broth from the stew aside. Maybe tomorrow he’ll be well enough to eat something more solid.”

“Thank you,” Jean answered. “It is… kind of you. I am grateful.”

“The sun will be down in a few hours. I can’t waste the oil or the candles. I sleep when it is dark and I work in the light. I don’t have time for ‘entertainment’ even if I was inclined to it. In the morning, you can lend a hand with the work.”

“Yes, of course,” Jean agreed. “It’s the least I can do.”

Assheton continued eating in silence. Jean did the same. After the stew he poured something like green tea into a tin cup and gave it to her. It was bitter without milk or sugar, and hot, but she drank it slowly. She tried to think of ways of opening a conversation, but everything she could think of seemed trivial in the circumstances.

She took the broth to The Doctor. He was still unconscious, and he still looked pale and sick. She managed to spoon some of the cooled broth into his mouth, enough to nourish him and give him strength to recover. She wondered if she ought to look at his wound, but disturbing the bandage might be painful to him.

She went back into the main room and sat down again. Assheton didn’t speak to her. He just stared into the flames from the fire. She did the same for a little while, allowing her thoughts to wander.

Perhaps it was the stress and the exhaustion of the day, but even before the sunset, which must have been about eight o’clock at the latest, she was starting to feel drowsy. Assheton’s sharp voice woke her from a doze, telling her not to fall asleep in the chair.

“Yes,” she agreed. “I should go to bed. Thank you for your kindness. I… will see you in the morning.”

He didn’t answer her. She went into the small bedroom and checked on The Doctor again before slipping off her outer clothes and getting into the other bed in her underwear. That was something else that might not be pleasant if they were stuck here for a while - wearing the same clothes day after day.

But she slept soundly despite the primitive nature of the bed. When she woke, it was just after dawn. She heard the sounds of a fire being raked over and built up. She dressed quickly and went to The Doctor, first. She had hoped he would be awake this morning, still in pain, perhaps moaning about it, but on the mend.

She was disappointed and dismayed to find him still pale and sickly, still unconscious. She unwrapped the bandages and saw that the ankle was swollen and blue-black and the teeth marks from the trap were still raw. She put a fresh poultice on the wound and bandaged it again before going out to see if Assheton had anything other than cold rabbit stew for breakfast.

Breakfast was porridge and more of the green tea. Jean was a Scotswoman, but contrary to popular belief, she really wasn’t all that fond of porridge – especially without milk and sugar. She ate it because she was hungry and brought a thinned out gruel of it to The Doctor. She managed to feed some of it to him. Once it seemed as if he was stirring. He said something, but it was incomprehensible.

“Doctor, please get better,” she whispered. “I need you. I’m scared, and I don’t know if I can trust Assheton or not. He’s… odd.”

Again he seemed to say something, but she couldn’t understand it. Perhaps it was in his own language. If so, she didn’t understand why it wasn’t being translated. Perhaps it was just a random, mixed up thought and not meant for her to understand at all.

“I’ve got to go. He wants me to work. And it’s only right, since we’re eating his food. I’ll check on you later.”

She touched his forehead with her hand. It felt cool despite a sweat that beaded it. Was that good or bad? Did it mean he wasn’t feverish or was he just cold?

She had to leave him and hope. Assheton called out gruffly. She went out to the main room and was presented with two half-decapitated rabbits that he expected her to skin and prepare for the pot.

Jean knew how to do that. The island community where she grew up was as rural as this valley, and meat caught in the wild was a part of the normal diet. She still preferred it already cut into joints and chops in the freezer section of a supermarket, but if she absolutely had to….

She prepared a rabbit stew with meat and some rough looking vegetables that looked as if they had just been pulled from the ground.

“You grow vegetables?” she said to Assheton. “There’s enough food for you from hunting meat and growing vegetables?”

“I manage,” he answered.

“What about the people who put you here. Do they never check on you? Don’t you have other needs than food? Clothes, candles, oil for the lamp?”

“They come once a year before winter sets in,” he said. “The rest of the time I see nobody.”

“It must be lonely.”

Assheton didn’t answer that comment at all. Perhaps it struck too close a nerve. He seemed, she had decided from her contact with him, to be a self-contained man who didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve.

But twenty-five years of isolation would surely do that. What was he like before his punishment? Jean couldn’t help wondering. In any case, thinking about Assheton was easier than thinking about The Doctor. His condition was no better. His ankle still looked horribly swollen and the wounds were not mending. He was still and pale and cold to the touch. Only his two hearts beating let her know he was alive.

If The Doctor were to die here, what would she do? Wait until Assheton’s guards came in the autumn and ask them for help? That was a dismal prospect. She still didn’t know where or when she was, exactly. It had all the signs of being in Scotland, even the Gaelic name. But what if it wasn’t? And even if it was, what century was it? Certainly not her own.

This was her prison, too, as long as The Doctor was sick and they couldn’t get back to the TARDIS.

Assheton asked her to do other jobs through the day, and some work she found to do for herself, like cleaning the dishes and scrubbing the table. Housework – women’s work. As a university graduate with opinions about equality, she would have resented the way she so easily fell into the traditional roles, but since Assheton did the traditionally male jobs like chopping wood for the fire and doing whatever was done with the daily contents of that thing called an ‘earth closet’ she figured that women’s work was the easier side of the deal altogether.

A whole day passed. After the evening meal, Jean did what she could to make sure The Doctor was nourished, too. The lack of improvement in him dismayed her. Indeed, his ankle looked very much worse. The wounds were infected. She asked for boiling water and bathed them until she had removed all of the sickly smelling pus and then bandaged the cleaned wound. She left out the poultice. It didn’t seem to be doing any good.

As she was finishing the job Assheton came into the room with another bowl of hot water and a rough cloth that might pass as a towel as well as a large cotton shirt.

“Women tend to have ideas about cleanliness,” he said. “Maybe you’ll feel better for a wash and a change.”

“Thank you,” she said to him. It was a kindness of a sort. She really did appreciate washing all over and putting on the shirt. It was large enough to fit her like a dress, fastened at the waist by The Doctor’s trouser belt. Later, without the belt, it would make a passable nightgown. She could wash her own clothes meanwhile and they would dry on the rough line outside overnight.

That was the closest thing to physical comfort she had in this place. There was very little mental comfort to be had. The situation was desperate.

Again she went to bed as soon as it was dark, taking a cup of green tea with her and sitting in the bed with a sliver of moonlight giving shape to the bleak room. She was lost in melancholy thoughts about the immediate future when she heard a creak from the other bed and a whisper.

“Yes,” she answered. “I’m here.” She went to The Doctor’s side. He whispered again. She reached for his jacket and pulled out the sonic screwdriver. She pressed it into his right hand and he fumbled with it for a few minutes before it lit up the room with a white-blue light that came as a surprise after the gloom of the electricity-bereft cottage.

“You’re better?” she asked, noting that his eyes were wide open and his flesh was a healthier colour.

“Not quite,” he answered. “My ankle is still bad. You did the right thing cleaning it and leaving off that poultice. There was an ingredient in it that was stopping the wound from mending.”

“What?” Joan spoke sharply, then realised that she didn’t want Assheton to hear her.

“It’s all right. The sonic is projecting a perception shield around us. He thinks we’re both asleep in the dark. Did you drink all your tea?”

“Not yet.”

“Don’t. It’s probably got a soporific in it to keep you asleep until morning.”

“He wants you to stay sick and me drugged? But why? And how do you know about it? You’ve been unconscious the whole time.”

“My brain was still active, and like I said before, the adrenaline overload from the pain was affecting my telepathic nerves. I could FEEL everything going on in the house.” He noticed Jean’s sudden blush. “While you were washing I concentrated my mind on Assheton. That’s how I knew he was spiking your tea.”

“We have to get out of here,” Jean said. “I wasn’t sure I could trust him before. Now I know I can’t. He could have killed you. And then what wouldn’t he be able to do to me?”

“I still can’t walk on this ankle,” The Doctor reminded her. “You did your best for me. My body will do the rest. I’ll be all right by mid-morning.” Jean looked surprised. “A Time Lord trick. Fast recovery. But I don’t want you to wait. Jean, take the sonic. Setting Alpha Delta Sigma is a homing beacon. It will guide you to the TARDIS. The penlight works at the same time. But watch out for traps. When you get to the TARDIS, code 9?78?4? on the communications panel will send out an emergency beacon. You stay there until there’s a response and try not to worry about me.”

“I can’t leave you, Doctor,” Jean protested. “He has a gun and I don’t think he’d think twice about using it. You were right about him being a criminal. He must be a murderer.”

“No,” The Doctor assured her. “Not the way you mean. I’ll be all right, but without sending out that signal we’ll be stuck here with him until winter and I don’t think either of us want that.”

“I don’t want to use that outside toilet until winter,” Jean pointed out. “But Doctor….”

“Do it for me, Jean,” he pleaded. “It’s the only way.”

“All right,” she promised. “I think he’s asleep. I can slip out through the window. The moon will help.”

He hugged her once, very quickly. Jean put her jacket on over the shirt-dress and her shoes on her feet. It was an odd kind of outfit to trek up a hillside in, but it would have to do. Her other clothes weren’t dry yet.

“Look in my inside pocket,” The Doctor said. “There’s a tin of sweets. They come from the tourist centre on Iceworld. They taste a bit like Kendal Mint Cake and act as a sort of internal heat. You won’t feel cold as long as you’re sucking on one of them.”

She found the sweets with a very odd script on the tin lid and slipped them into her own jacket pocket. After that there was no point in waiting around. She opened the window as carefully and quietly as possible and climbed through. She got as far away from the cottage as possible before setting the sonic screwdriver to its homing beacon-penlight mode and letting it guide her.

She was walking for a half hour before she felt the need for one of the alien sweets. It was deliciously like Kendal Mint Cake and she enjoyed that one comfort as she moved warily through the bracken and gorse where Assheton was likely to have let traps. Once she was going more steeply uphill that danger was passed, but now she had to watch out for tree roots that might trip her or erratic boulders. She did stumble a few times. Once she dropped the sonic screwdriver and the penlight went out. She panicked until she spotted the green glow of the tip and reset it.

Slowly and sometimes painfully she made her way up the slope. Gorse and nettles stung her legs. She grazed her hands twice when she fell. At least she wasn’t cold. She felt like the child in the Ready Brek advert with the glow of central heating for kids around her.

What she did have to fight was tiredness. She had drunk one cup of the green tea with her evening meal, and it was probably spiked with the soporific. The bedtime drink was to ensure that she slept, presumably to stop her from attempting what she was attempting.

Why, she didn’t know. Assheton didn’t seem especially thrilled by her company. Surely he would be as glad to be rid of her and The Doctor as they would be to leave him. Yet he had deliberately kept The Doctor sick and drugged her so that she couldn’t escape in the night. During the day she would not get far without him catching up with her.

It made no sense. None of it did. It made no sense to be stumbling uphill in the dark, but she carried on, forcing herself to stay awake, hoping that the TARDIS was close, perhaps just over the next steep part.

Then she saw it. The rectangular shape was like nothing in nature even without the blue light on the roof and the welcoming, wonderful ‘Police Public Call Box’ sign lit up around the top.

She fumbled for the key in her pocket, but the door swung open as she approached. She didn’t even wonder why. She was just so glad to step over the threshold into the console room. The lights were turned down and the console glowed in various colours. She backed away at a strange sound, but it was only the wonderful creature that The Doctor called ‘Humphrey’ coming out from the shadows under the console to greet her. She was so relieved she could have hugged him – if he wasn’t made of darkness and had no form to hug. Instead he wrapped his insubstantialness around her and she felt comforted as she reached to send the emergency beacon. When it was done, she sank down onto the floor and let the darkness hug enfold her completely.

It was an hour after dawn when she returned to the cottage in the valley, this time riding in a solar powered space craft piloted by a smartly dressed man called Drennan. He was armed, as were the three men who accompanied him when the craft landed. When they heard angry shouts within the cottage they warned her to stay in the craft until it was safe.

Jean disobeyed the order. She followed the men of the United Federation Correction Force as they stormed the cottage. She saw Assheton pointing the shotgun at The Doctor, who was clinging to the bedroom door, his ankle still too painful to put any weight on, though it was no longer bandaged and the wounds were, at last, healing.

“Drop the gun Assheton,” Drennan ordered. “Don’t make things worse for yourself.”

“He can go if the woman stays with me,” Assheton answered. “I’ve no use for male company. But a woman….”

“Think again,” Jean told him. “Doctor, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “Right as ninepence as they used to say, though I don’t know what exactly ninepence has to do with it.”

“It was the price of a patent hangover cure in Victorian Glasgow, since you’re asking,” Jean replied. The nonsense banter was the distraction that Drennan needed. He fired his pistol at Assheton. It wasn’t loaded with live ammunition, but a powerful and instant anaesthetic. Assheton dropped like the proverbial stone. His shotgun clattered on the stone floor. Jean ran the few steps to The Doctor’s side. He was grinning widely.

“Is that true about the hangover cure?” he asked her while Drennan’s men put Assheton into his bedroom to sleep it off. “Sounds dodgy, really.”

“Who has the history degree around here?” Jean responded. “Come on, these guys will give us a lift back to the TARDIS. If we follow them through a sort of gap they made in the spatial trap we’ll be able to get going after that.”

On the way back to the TARDIS, Jean explained to The Doctor the whole story about Moreton Assheton as told to her by Drennan of the United Federation Correction Force. He WAS a murderer, but not in the usual way. He had been a senior doctor in Edinburgh in the Forty-Second century. When a dangerously infectious and fatal virus struck the city he was responsible for vaccinating the population. But one batch of the vaccination was faulty. Two hundred people had not been protected from the virus. Rather, its symptoms came on even more rapidly and they died painfully. Among those who died were Assheton’s own wife and son. He gave himself up to the authorities and admitted all responsibility for the error. He was tried and convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to confinement within a spatial prison.

“I feel sorry for him,” Jean added as they waved goodbye to the men in the space craft and stepped into the TARDIS. “Because there’s another thing that Drennan told me. Only five years after he was sentenced an appeal was granted. He could have gone home and made a new life for himself. But he didn’t. Remember what we talked about - it seems ages ago now - about prisons of the mind. Assheton blamed himself so deeply that he couldn’t leave. The spatial trap isn’t maintained by the UFCF or whatever they’re called. It’s his own unhappy consciousness that won’t let it open up. He made himself his own prisoner. Except… when we arrived… I think he realised he needed companionship. He wanted us to stay, even if he had to nearly kill you and drug me. And… yes, I pity him.”

“Me, too,” The Doctor agreed. “I hope he forgives himself one day. There’s nothing we can do for him, which makes me feel very sorry. But I made you a promise. So, goodbye Glen of the Foresaken. Next stop, Isle of Bute.”