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

“This has GOT to be Scotland,” Jean declared when she stepped out of the TARDIS into a warm evening about dusk. “This time I know it is.”

“What gave you the clue?” The Doctor asked. “Was it the smell of turf fires burning, the purple heather on the mountainside….”

“No, it was the man in full plaid playing bagpipes outside that house over there,” she answered, pointing to the source of a unique sound that, like Marmite, you either loved or hated. There was no halfway with bagpipe music.

Jean hated it, but there was something rather haunting about the way the music drifted on the still, twilight air. It made her feel a little sad and rather nostalgic, even though bagpipes and plaid had never been part of her life as a twenty-first century Scotswoman.

“It’s a lament for the dead,” she noted. “That’s why it feels so sad. Not that bagpipes are noted for jolly, upbeat tunes at the best of times.”

“This is 1786,” The Doctor told her. “He’s playing for his fallen comrades at Culloden forty years ago when he was a young man.”

“In the late eighteenth century, it was against the law to play bagpipes or to wear a kilt,” Jean pointed out.

“Yes.” The Doctor’s laugh rang out on the still air, mixing with the skirl of the pipes. “Still a rebel after all these years.”

The Doctor had a wide smile on his face as he headed towards the solidly built two storey house with white-washed walls and a tiled roof that suggested the bagpipe player was a man of relative substance in a land of thatched crofts. Jean took note of the solid barn and other outhouses that confirmed the initial assumption.

The piper stopped his playing as the two strangers approached. He held them in such a way that they might easily become a weapon if needs be.

“Jamie,” The Doctor said, holding out his hand to shake. “My dear fellow, how are you these days?”

The piper looked at The Doctor and swore in Gaelic before grasping his hand tightly.

“Doctor, is it yourself?” he said. “I canna believe it. Ye’re looking younger than ever this time.”

“I’m much older than I ever was,” The Doctor replied. “This is just a cunning disguise. You look well, my old friend.”

He looked like a man in his early sixties, Jean thought. Though one with plenty of life in him, yet. His brown eyes were clear and bright. His face was lined with age, but he must have been good looking in his younger days.

“This is my very good friend, Jean Ferguson of Bute,” The Doctor said, introducing her. “Jean, this is Jamie McCrimmon who I have told you of once or twice.”

“Pleased to meet you, Jamie,” Jean said, shaking his hand. She half expected to feel something more in his touch. They were, after all, related somewhere in her ancestry, and besides, both of them had travelled with The Doctor in the TARDIS.

There was no tingle or sudden recognition of each other as kindred spirits. But she wasn’t disappointed. She was still shaking hands with one of her Highland ancestors. That was a thrill on its own.

“Come within,” he said. “Kirsty will have a bite for ye to eat.”

He brought them into the house through a porch with woven rag rugs covering the stone floor and then into a comfortable parlour with a good fire in the hearth. Jamie placed his bagpipes carefully on a shelf and invited his friends to sit close to the fire. As they did so a woman came from the back room. He introduced her as his daughter, Kate.

“These are friends of mine come to visit us,” he said. “Tell your ma to bring tea and oatcakes, will ye, lass.”

Kate ran to do his bidding. Her footsteps could be heard on a passageway that led to the kitchen. Presently an older woman, clearly the mother of Kate, came through with a tray of tea and buttered oatcakes for the guests.

“Ye’ve met The Doctor before, of course,” Jamie said to his wife. “And this is Jean who is an islander, herself.”

Kirsty looked at The Doctor with puzzled eyes at first, then she nodded and greeted him as an old friend.

“You were good to my faither and I when we were running from the Redcoats,” she said. “And many a time, since when you’ve visited us.” She smiled at Jean and told her that any friend of The Doctor’s was surely a friend of the McCrimmon family.

“The last time I was here there were a lot more children about,” The Doctor said conversationally as he drank tea and sampled the oatcakes. Butter on them was a luxury only offered to guests on any day but Sunday, of course. Ordinarily they would be eaten plain.

“Our own bairns’re all grown up now,” Jamie explained. “We’ve more grandchildren than we can count.”

“Kate is the only one not yet married,” Kirsty added. “And she is walking out with Douglas McCraig, the harbourmaster. We expect an announcement before long. Our eldest boy, James, is vicar of the church over in yon village. Malcolm is the blacksmith. Our other two boys, Fergus and Dougal, tend the farm that my faither left to us. It was a fair parcel of land, enough for them both to keep their families. They tend to the McCrimmon farm, too, since Jamie got a bit too old to manage it by hisself. We have a decent income from it.”

“The girls married well,” Jamie added quickly, before The Doctor could inquire about his health. “Morag and Sarah are both parson’s wives. Bridie is living in Glasgow now. Her man owns a grocer’s shop.”

“I’m glad to see you’re prospering,” The Doctor told them. Jean agreed. She knew well enough the history of these times. Tenant farmers, crofters as they were called, were all but wiped out by the ‘Clearances’ when the landowners evicted them in order to turn the land over to more profitable cattle grazing. The McCrimmon family had owned enough land outright to make a living as small farmers. They kept their roots in the Highlands instead of being driven to cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh to make a new start.

“We are, though there’s sadness in the neighbourhood,” Jamie admitted.

There was something in the way he said that and the way Kirsty stiffened her poise and glanced at her husband.

“No, my love,” Jamie told her. “If anyone should hear of these troubles, it’s The Doctor. He’s the wisest man I’ve ever met. He’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Jean looked at Jamie, then at The Doctor. He had brought her here to finally meet her ancestor. It was meant to be nothing more than that, a social call. But if there was something wrong here, then he wanted to know.

“There have been some deaths that are… unexplained,” Kirsty admitted.

“Unexplained unless ye believe in the predictions of Coinneach Odhar,” Jamie added.

“Which I do not,” Kirsty insisted. “And nor do you, Jamie.”

“True enough,” he admitted. “But many people in Fortrose, do, and that’s the trouble.”

“Coinneach Odhar?” Jean queried. “The Brahan Seer? What does he have to do with any of it?”

The Doctor looked at Jean curiously. She smiled just a little smugly. This was something she knew more about than him.

“Some people don’t even believe he existed at all, that it was just a nineteenth century fiction. Others are convinced that there was a man from these parts who lived about a hundred years before this time, and who made a series of prophecies about the future... Like….”

“Old Mother Shipton,” The Doctor suggested.

“I was thinking about Nostrodamus,” Jean countered. “But yes, the same sort of thing. He talked of hills strewn with ribbons – people think he meant electricity and phone wires, and fiery chariots without horses… cars and trains, that kind of thing.”

Kirsty was puzzled, but Jamie had been to the future and seen all of those things, as well as aeroplanes and transistor radios, and even space stations in the sky. His memory had been wiped of those mysteries by the Time Lords, but they had reckoned without the strength of a Highlander’s mind and it all came back to him later.

“When devils wake beneath ancient stones, unnatural death comes to A' Chananaich,” Kirsty said. “That’s here. A' Chananaich is the Gaelic name for Fortrose. It comes from when the Abbey was the seat of the Canon.”

“And there have been unnatural deaths,” Jamie confirmed. “Four of them so far.”

“Unnatural how?” Jean asked.

Jamie began to answer, but he was cut off by a loud knock at the front door. Kirsty got up to answer it. Jamie stood, too, his face strained. He seemed very little reassured when his wife said the name of his eldest son in fond tones. When the younger James McCrimmon replied to his mother it was in a low voice and what he said made her cry out in distress.

He entered the parlour, his mother clinging to his hand. He was a tall, handsome young man dressed in black and the plain collar of his calling. He glanced at the strangers in his father’s house, but his first concern had been for his sister, Katie, who came from the kitchen to see who had come, now.

“There’s been another body found,” he said. “I’m sorry, Katie… it’s Douglas.”

Katie burst into hysterical tears. Her mother reached to comfort her, but there was little comfort to give.

“Where was he found?” Jamie asked.

“On the coast road, a little past the cathedral. He might have been heading this way to see Katie, after his work was done.”

“And he was like the others?” Jamie asked.

“He was.” James met his father’s gaze steadily, and it seemed as if much more was being said without words.

“Maybe it’s not him,” Kate sobbed, clutching at the last vestige of hope. “If he’s like… like…. I’ve heard it said that the others were…. Maybe it isn’t Douglas.”

“I’m sorry,” James told her.

“This is The Doctor,” Jamie said, remembering his guests. “He can help us. We should show him….”

“The Doctor?” James looked at him for the first time. His eyes narrowed in puzzlement, then opened wide as if he had recognised an old friend. “Of course. I was only a bairn when you visited us last. My father has told stories about you many a time. Since I took the cloth I have tried not to think of the more lurid tales. They don’t quite sit with my calling, but… when it seems as if demons from hell are stalking this parish….”

James stopped talking. His expression was one of a desperately unhappy man who was trying to understand something beyond his understanding.

“Show me,” The Doctor said in a quiet tone that conveyed all of his own understanding of things beyond the ken of ordinary Human beings. He slipped his coat on. Jamie reached for a cloak that covered his plaid. He was coming, too.

“I’ll take care of them,” Jean said, nodding towards the two grief-stricken McCrimmon women. “But keep me in the loop, Doctor. No holding back on me.”

The Doctor nodded in her direction, accepting her terms and came with Jamie and his son out onto the dark coast road. He could hear the tide coming in along the Moray Firth. It was a calm sound that any other time would have been comforting to the two men who had spent most of their lives here in this townland. Tonight it mocked the sombre mood of the men as they walked towards the lights of the community called Fortrose.

James brought them to the Chapter House of the former Abbey. It was the least neglected part of the dilapidated building since it was still used for parish meetings. There were lamps lit and two men were waiting, keeping vigil over the covered body that had been removed to there. One was the verger, Angus Buchanan. The other was introduced to The Doctor as Anthony Blaine, who had come from Edinburgh to make a study of the manuscripts connected to the old Abbey.

“I was working in here when they brought the poor soul in,” he explained. Blaine looked distressed beyond the ordinary sorrow of a stranger in the presence of death, but nobody paid attention to him for the moment as Jamie pulled back the sheet that covered the body discreetly. He and his son and The Doctor all looked at the mortal remains of Douglas McCraig with as much detachment as they could muster.

“How old was he?” The Doctor asked quietly.

“Thirty-two,” James responded. “He was a strong, capable man. I can’t believe he could be….”

“He’s the same as the others.”


The body before them looked anything but a young, strong man. It was emaciated and bent with extreme old age. The eyes were rheumy and the bones brittle. The face was deeply lined and the hands seized up with arthritis.

“It’s difficult to believe that anything on God’s Earth could do this,” James admitted. He watched as The Doctor stepped closer and carefully examined the body.

“Can you lift him?” he said. “I need to look at the back of his neck.”

James and the verger helped. The Doctor used a magnifying glass that he drew from his pocket to examine a red mark at the top of the dead man’s spine.

“I thought as much,” he said. “Nothing from your God’s Earth did this. That’s the mark of a Vingri. Put him down, now. There’s nothing more to be done.”

They put the body of Douglas McCraig back to rest and the verger covered him decently.

“What is a Vingri?” James asked.

“It’s bad,” The Doctor answered. “It’s a curse on any community it sets its teeth into. It will devour everything in its path. It must be destroyed before it kills again.”

Jamie nodded in agreement. His son and the verger looked at him in amazement.

Blaine looked even more worried, but nobody was interested in him, still.

“It really is a demon?” the Verger asked.

“A Vingri,” The Doctor repeated.

“Can there really be such a thing?” James asked, clinging to the certainties of the world he knew and the knowledge that all things upon it were put there by God.

“If The Doctor says it’s a… whatever it was he said, then I believe him,” Jamie insisted. “What I want to know is how it got here and why it’s preying on men from our townland.”

“It’s the prophecy,” Angus Buchanan said. “When devils wake beneath ancient stones, unnatural death comes to A' Chananaich.”

James looked at his verger fiercely.

“That’s nothing but superstition, Angus. You of all people ought to know better.”

“Ye canna deny it, reverend,” Angus answered him. “Unnatural death has come.”

“I’m afraid he’s right,” Blaine said. “And I think it’s my fault.”

“How could it possibly be your fault?” The Doctor asked him. “What does any of this have to do with you?”

“When devils wake beneath ancient stones….” Blaine repeated. “THIS Abbey… it is ancient….”

“Yes….” The Doctor prompted.

“I am afraid I misled the reverend about my purpose here. I wasn’t merely interested in the manuscripts. I was looking for the crypt of Saint Curetán. I think I found it. But the saint wasn’t buried there. Something else was… something that shouldn’t have been woken.”

Blaine put something down on the table. It was a very old book, its leather cover splitting with age – assuming it was leather.

The Doctor touched it gingerly and assured himself that it was a by-product of a cow. He was ready to expect anything.

He opened the book and was relieved that the pages were ordinary parchment. It was a handwritten journal with dates from the era before the death of Saint Curetán, who lived in this part of Scotland in the ninth century AD.

“I’m sure it’s the Saint’s own journal,” Blaine said. “But I’m having trouble reading it. He uses both old Gaelic and Latin, and I am struggling with the translation.”

Jamie made a disgusted sound.

“Ye call yerself a Scotsman and ye dinnae know yer Gaelic?” he said, becoming far more Scottish about it in his indignation. Of course, Blaine was a lowlander. English had been the vernacular there, where England’s rule was strongest, for a long time.

Even so, it was rather foolish for an academic studying old Scottish saints not to expect them to write in their old language.

The Doctor took the manuscript and opened it at the first page. It was tricky. The old-fashioned handwriting style and eighth century Gaelic did slow him down to ten seconds per page. He didn’t quite make everyone else’s eyes water watching his pupils dilate as he read the whole journal in a few minutes.

“Where did you get this?” he demanded when he was done. There was an edge to his voice that would tolerate no further dissembling. Blaine answered quickly.

“In a sealed recess in the main crypt,” he answered. “Before I found the entrance to the lower level, where I thought Curetán’s tomb would be.”

“If you’d read this first, you might have had more sense,” The Doctor said. “Or not. Humans. If there was a big plug in the middle of the universe stopping it from being sucked into the next dimension and a sign saying ‘do not remove’ it would be a Human that would remove it to see what would happen.”

Even Jamie, who knew how erratic The Doctor could get, and what nonsense he could talk, was puzzled by that little rant, but all four men waited to see what he had to say next.

“The under-crypt was NOT the resting place of the Saint. It is where the Saint banished a pair of Vingri. He calls them creatures from hell, demons who steal men’s lives.”

“They steal men’s lives?” James looked down at the covered body on the table. “By making them old?”

“Yes,” The Doctor replied shortly. “That’s exactly what Vingri do. They feed on the future life of their victim.”

“That’s possible?”

“It is. Curetán records men and women dying in exactly the same way in the year 695 A.D. He exhorted the men of the townland to put aside their fear, promising that God was on their side, and they forced the demons that caused the trouble into a cellar that had been prepared as part of the foundation of a new church to be built. The cellar was sealed and the church built over it. That, in turn, gave way to the Cathedral in the thirteenth century, which must be when the new crypt was installed. But nobody back then was stupid enough to unseal the place beneath where the demons had been incarcerated. They sealed the journal in place in order to WARN future idiots to leave things well alone.”

Blaine was looking worried. Five men were dead because of his eagerness to find the Saint’s tomb.

“How did Saint Curetán fight these demons?” James asked. “Was it by the power of God?”

“No, the power of edged weapons,” The Doctor answered. He held up the manuscript to show a detailed line drawing of the Saint and the townspeople armed with swords and knives, forcing the two creatures into the pit. They noted that the Vingri had dark faces and glowing eyes, forked tongues and devil-like wings and tails.

“A pretty good mugshot,” The Doctor said. “Getting glowing eyes in a line drawing is talented. Now you know what you’re dealing with, and Mr Blaine knows where they are. So let’s get some edged weapons and deal with them.”

Edged weapons were easy enough to find in Fortrose. There were plenty of men like Jamie who still had the swords they fought with at Culloden forty years before, or sons of such men who kept their father’s swords. It didn’t take very long before a group of them were gathered at the chapter house. Jamie had roused as many as he could find.

The Doctor took a spare sword brought by the verger and tested its length and weight expertly.

“Why didn’t they kill the demons when they came the first time?” Jamie asked as the posse of men moved off from the Chapter House towards the neglected thirteenth century Abbey. “If they knew they could be killed, this could all have been over now.”

“Curetán was a man of God and a man of peace,” The Doctor explained. “He didn’t want to kill anything. He said so in his journal. He hoped sealing them in the crypt would be enough.”

He paused, and Jamie wasn’t the only one who saw the expression in his eyes.

“I’m a man of peace, too. But if I have to, I WILL kill. WHEN I have to, when there’s no other choice. I think this is one of those occasions when there is no choice.”

Jamie understood that sentiment. He hadn’t gone to fight the English army at Culloden field out of any desire for blood. But he was a little disturbed to hear The Doctor say such a thing. The man he remembered would avoid bloodshed at all costs. He was sure that was still true.

But five men were dead, the last his daughter’s sweetheart, and Jamie was ready to take up arms for the first time in forty years.

“It’s this way,” Blaine said as they entered the south knave and moved towards the transept where he led them down into the crypt. “This part was known to anyone who had access to the Abbey. It was the resting place of several bishops.”

But at the far end of the crypt was a flagstone that bore evidence of Blaine’s efforts to uncover the undercrypt. He lifted it and shone a light down into a stairway. Halfway down plaster and bricks were removed where Blaine had found the journal.

“There’s another door at the bottom. I unsealed it three days ago, but I haven’t opened it, yet. I heard the Verger upstairs and came away in case he reported me for desecration. I didn’t come back until now.”

“If the door is still locked…” the Verger began.

“It’s unsealed,” Blaine reminded him. “If these demons can transcend a locked door….”

“Then ye’re responsible for those dead men,” Jamie told him. “And let it be on your conscience till the day ye die.”

“This is not the time for apportioning blame,” James said with the cool tones of a man of the cloth. “Let us go carefully and see what we shall see.”

The Doctor took the lead. Jamie and his son followed. Blaine and the Verger were behind him. The other men of the posse waited at the top until they were called.

The door was good strong oak, preserved for centuries behind the wattle and daub wall that Blaine had broken through. It was kept in place by a heavy wooden bar across it. The Doctor reached to lift the bar and push the door open.

Everyone but The Doctor gagged at the foul smell that came from within the room that had last been opened in the seventh century A.D. He closed off his lungs and recycled his breathing as he stepped forward, his sword in one hand and his sonic screwdriver in the other, putting its reliable penlight mode before any issues of its anachronistic technology.

The red eyes of the Vingri didn’t need illuminating. He saw them in the shadows beyond the sonic’s pool of light. The creature came towards him with a high pitched scream. He raised his sword ready to pierce it, but then he felt somebody barge him out of the way. The Vingri screamed again as it was stabbed through what passed for a heart then was silent as its head was struck from its head. The Doctor saw it fall onto the dusty floor of the crypt. He noticed the pronounced forehead that meant this was a female.

“You’re a man of peace, Doctor,” Jamie said as he cleaned his sword. “Leave it to a man who’s already known war.”

The Doctor was about to answer when they both heard another unearthly scream. This time he barged Jamie to the ground as a second Vingri emerged from the shadows. It’s eyes burned brightly as it tried to reach Jamie.

“Father!” James cried out and ran to them. The Doctor pulled him to the ground too, and covered them both with his own body. He felt the creature’s mouth upon his neck, but a Time Lord’s lifeforce wasn’t so easy to take as a fragile Human one. The Vingri drew back as if poisoned. It roared again, the sound echoing in the small chamber.

“You took my mate!” it growled, the voice coming from a mouth that may not have been intended to form words. “I will take yours.”

At that the Vingri folded upon itself and became smoke. It swept through the open door. The Doctor and Jamie both ran. They paused at the top of the stairs to look at the men who had scattered in fear. Jamie swore at them in the strongest Gaelic he could muster and called them all cowards for running.

“Even you, Angus!” James said with a shake of the head. “The Saint had stronger townsmen with him than we had this night.”

“Never mind that, now,” The Doctor told them both. “Think of the women. They’re on their own in the house. Come on.”

It wasn’t a long way back to the McCrimmon House, but Jamie was not the boy he was when he could easily outrun The Doctor. His son was only in his thirties, but the life of a vicar was hardly that of an athlete. They were both left behind as The Doctor used every muscle in his superior Time Lord body to race a demon that could turn itself into dust and transport itself on the air itself. Both of his hearts pounded in his chest and when he reminded himself to breathe he gulped in air to oxygenate his blood and give him the extra strength he needed.

But he knew he would be too late. His two hearts were thudding with dread as well as exertion as he approached the front door and saw it swinging on its hinges. He raced into the hall and then into the parlour in time to see Kirsty decapitate the Vingri with Jamie’s spare sword. It’s howl was cut off and the body and head both turned to foul smelling dust on the otherwise scrupulously clean floor.

But The Doctor didn’t see that. He cried out in grief and bent to lift Jean into his arms.

“She defended us,” Kate said. Kirsty was too stunned to speak. She stood there with the sword loose in one hand and the other covering her mouth as she let out incoherent sobs.

“She stood between us and that… that thing,” Kate said again as The Doctor pushed back the white hair from a face aged at least sixty years in the brief time the Vingri had attached itself to her neck. He felt her slow pulse and shallow breathing. “Is she….”

“Not yet,” The Doctor answered. He heard Jamie and James run into the house and stop at the door, horrified by what they saw before them. “But there’s very little time left. It’s been stolen, and I’m not sure if I can get it back.”

He put his hands both sides of Jean’s face and pressed his forehead against hers. His other friends watched in astonishment as a golden glow passed from his head to Jean’s and slowly enveloped her body. The two men on one side of the room and the two women on the other watched something that proved beyond all doubt that The Doctor was not of this Earth.

As the glow faded again Jean gasped and breathed raggedly, then more strongly. He sat up and brushed her loose red hair away from her face. The Doctor tried not to show how much it had hurt him to give her that much of his own lifeforce. He would ache for days like an old man of five hundred.

But it was worth it. She was young again. He helped her to stand up before Kirsty and Kate both embraced her.

“It’s a miracle,” James whispered.

“Aye, it’s that all right,” Jamie agreed.

“Kate, I’m sorry,” The Doctor said. “I couldn’t do the same for your man. He was already dead. It’s only because I reached Jean before the end….”

Kate nodded sadly. She was still grieving for her lover and would do so for a while, yet, but she had witnessed a miracle in her mother’s parlour and it revived her spirits a little.

“Don’t be hard on those whose courage failed,” The Doctor added, turning to Jamie and his son. “They were facing something their minds couldn’t fully encompass and it scared them.”

“Aye, Doctor,” Jamie acknowledged. “We can forgive them. But is it over now?”

“Both the Vingri are dead. Decapitation while they are in corporeal form is fatal to them. It is over. But if you want to seal up that room and let posterity forget about it, I won’t blame you.”

That was exactly what did happen. James and the verger between them replaced the wattle and daub wall with boards and plaster and The Doctor made sure it was fully sealed before they did the same with the place where the journal of St. Curetán had been hidden. Then he placed a deadlock seal on the flagstone that covered the entrance.

He and Jean stayed a few days more. They went with the McCrimmon family to the funeral of Douglas McCraig. Kate appreciated their support in her dark hour. Jamie shared many stories of past adventures with The Doctor with those members of his family who came for the wake. Jean found the company of the McCrimmon women pleasant as she recovered from the trauma of her encounter with the Vingri.

When they finally left, Jamie wore his plaid and played the bagpipes. The sound drifted on the evening air as they walked back to the TARDIS. They turned and looked back and waved once before stepping inside and leaving eighteenth century Scotland for their next adventure.