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

Clara Oswald was surprised to hear the sound of the TARDIS thrumming over the everyday noise of Shoreditch High Street. She looked around at the ordinary, innocent traffic and the unsuspecting passers-by on the pavement.

Then she spotted it, blocking the access alleyway for a row of shops. She stood looking at it until the door opened and HE stepped out followed by a young woman who blinked in bewilderment at the bustling shopping street.

“Who is that?” Clara asked. “For a moment I thought it was Jean, but she's obviously much younger. What have you done? Traded her in for a newer model?”

“This is Fiona,” the Doctor replied. “I'll explain everything. Let's go for coffee.”

“Ok, but the Tesco minimart is going to want its deliveries sooner or later. You'll need to shift the TARDIS.”

The Doctor shrugged as if to imply the unimportance of groceries.

“Ok, come on then,” Clara conceded. She headed towards a café two doors up from Tescos. It wasn’t one she used, so if The Doctor did anything really embarrassing it wouldn't matter too much. She went to the counter and ordered lattes all round. The Doctor liked the sort of coffees that came in tall cups with long spoons, but he sometimes did really juvenile things with the spoon so he got a latte whether he liked it or not. She didn’t know what Fiona would prefer. She looked as if she’d never been in a café before. A latte seemed a good introduction to the concept of social coffee drinking.

“So what’s going on?” she asked when she had distributed the drinks. She took a sachet of sugar from the dish in the middle of the table and added it to her drink. Fiona watched carefully and copied her right down to the way she stirred and then left her spoon on the saucer.

“Fiona… is Jean’s granddaughter,” The Doctor explained. For a moment Clara was puzzled, then the explanation presented itself.

“Oh… you mean you’ve been to Scotland in the future and found one of her descendents… Like Jean is descended from that Culloden guy. She told me about him.”

“No, not exactly,” The Doctor sighed. “I wish it was that easy. This… really needs longer cups of coffee. Don’t they do the ones in the tall glass cups with the long spoon?”

“I’ll get a second round of lattes if we need them,” Clara replied. “Come on. Tell me everything.”

“It was just an ordinary trip,” The Doctor began. Clara could have pointed out that there was no such thing as an ordinary trip aboard the TARDIS, but thought it better not to interrupt just yet.

They were heading home to Earth after a visit to the Chinese colony planet of Xian Xien. Jean had enjoyed the trip and was in a cheerful mood. The Doctor was looking happy, too, so she brought up a subject she had always avoided.

“Doctor… you know I’ve stuck around with you a lot longer than I planned to originally. I really ought to think about getting back to my job some time, soon.”

The Doctor seemed surprised to hear her say that. He didn’t reply for rather longer than Jean had expected.

“I… suppose you ARE right,” he admitted. “But there’s no need to make any decisions just yet. There are a couple of places I would like to take you, first”

“Yes, of course,” Jean answered him. “Absolutely. A few more memories to take home with me. But then it’ll be time to go home.”

He had done his best to hide his feelings, talking about some of the exotic places they could visit for her last few weeks aboard the TARDIS. Jean was enthusiastic about his suggestions.

“I could do with a quick pit stop back on Earth, first,” she suggested. “A bit of shopping. I know we’ve visited some wonderfully exotic markets on distant planets, but I haven’t found any of them that sell underwear for normal shaped humans with the regular number of legs and arms. And on the subject of arms, it is hard to get little things like antiperspirants in outer space.”

“You CAN get pills that make your perspiration smell like designer perfume in outer space,” The Doctor pointed out. “They make the whole antiperspirant thing redundant.”

“Thank you for that mental image,” Jean responded. “Just point me in the direction of a good Earth shopping centre.”

He began to do that just before things went wrong. The Doctor yelped in surprise and then indignation when the TARDIS apparently collided with something in the time vortex. He muttered something that might have been a swear word but the TARDIS was too polite to translate it.

Then the TARDIS dropped out of the vortex. As she slid across the floor Jean saw stars rushing by at a sickening speed on the main viewer. She heard The Doctor yelling something incomprehensible as she slipped into unconsciousness.

The Doctor watched her body flop limply against the door, but he couldn’t do anything at all to help her. He was in direct contact with the main power conduit and his body was being saturated with Ionic-Meisson-B energy. It was all he could do to keep himself standing and conscious.

“That’s as much as I know first hand,” The Doctor admitted. “The rest is from Jean’s diary. She kept it all the time. Fiona read it many times. She can tell you everything I missed.”

Fiona nodded shyly and sipped her coffee before relating what she knew of the arrival of the TARDIS under its own emergency landing protocol.

The first thing Jean knew about anything was waking up in a warm bed with linen sheets and roughly woven wool blankets. There was a lamp on a hand-made wooden table. The style of it made her think it was an old-fashioned oil light, but on closer inspection it was solar charged with a very small cell on the back. She turned it up brighter and noticed a tray with food and drink on it. She reached for the cup and saw that it contained milk. She drank it, noting that it was unpasteurised like the fresh milk she drank as a child on the Isle of Bute. The food was a kind of corn bread and cheese – again made from unpasteurised milk if she was any judge.

She was wearing a plain linen ‘shift’. That word came to her mind rather than nightdress just before she wondered who had undressed her and put her to bed. Surely it wasn’t The Doctor?

The door of the simple but clean room opened and a woman came in. She was dressed in a checked cotton dress and an apron that had a dusting of flour on it.

“Ah, you’re awake,” the woman said in a distinctly Highland accent. “I’m Maureen Gordon. What’s your name?”

“Jean Ferguson,” she answered. “But….”

“You’re a Scot. That’s a remarkable thing. Perhaps your coming here was even more providential than we thought.”

“How did I get here?” Jean asked. “I mean… how did I get in this bed, for a start… although that must be the end of the story, not the beginning of it. But….”

“Malcolm brought you. He found you next to your crashed ship up on the mountain. You weren’t badly injured, but you certainly needed a warm bed and plenty of rest.”

“Thank you, for that,” Jean said. “But… The Doctor… my friend who was with me…. What about him?”

“He’s more serious,” Maureen told her solemnly. “He’s in the other guest room, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him waking up. Malcolm took some of the men to bring your ship down to the yard. He thought there might be something there that would be of use… some technology we don’t have here.”

“In Scotland?” Jean queried. “In… what year is this?”

“We’re not in Scotland,” Maureen told her. “This is Alban Nuadh, and the year is 2586.”

“Alban Nuadh? New Scotland? You mean….”

“It’s a colony planet in the Orion sector. Most of the original twenty-third century settlers were from Scotland. That’s why we retained our accents.”

“It explains why you weren’t surprised by the TARDIS. Can I see The Doctor?”

“There’s a pair of slippers here under the bed,” Maureen said, reaching for the soft moccasin style footwear. Jean slid out of the bed and put them on. Maureen gave her a woollen housecoat to wrap around herself. She led her out onto a small landing and into another room, smaller than the one she had woken in. The Doctor was lying on top of the bed. He was unmoving. He hardly seemed to be breathing until Jean looked closer.

He was holding something in his hand, a device a bit like a television remote control. Jean took it from him. Maureen expressed surprise.

“We tried. He wouldn’t let go.”

“I think it was meant for me.” Jean pressed a button on the odd looking device and stepped back as a hologram resolved itself in the air.

“Jean, we’re in trouble,” the shimmering image of The Doctor said, looking directly at her – or so it seemed. “I’m badly injured. My body is going into deep hibernation while it repairs. Jean, this is going to be a long job. I mean LONG – maybe as much as fifty or sixty Earth years. Just put me somewhere safe, like the zero room – if you can find the zero room. And then activate the emergency homing switch. It will get you back to Earth in your own time. It might not get you to the exact place. I once left a friend in Aberdeen when I meant Croydon, but you can work that bit out for yourself.”

“Yes, but where is the emergency homing switch, Doctor? Why are you waffling on about Aberdeen when time is precious?”

“The emergency homing switch is…..”

He shimmered and stuttered then the hologram collapsed. Jean groaned in frustration.

“Doctor, why didn’t you just TELL me, or leave a note on the console or something? If I can’t figure it out, then I’m stuck here for fifty or sixty years.”

He didn’t respond. He really was in a deep Time Lord coma. Somewhere inside his body was sorting itself out, but he was no help to her at all.

“You said that somebody… Malcolm… your husband? You said he was going to bring our ship down from the mountain….”

“Malcolm is my brother,” Maureen explained. “And, yes. He should be back, soon.”

“I should get dressed, then. I need to look at the TARDIS.”

“I’ll find you some laundered clothes. If you would like to wash, there is a bathroom….”

The bathroom was surprisingly modern, though as plain and unadorned as the other rooms she had seen. There was a bath and shower cubicle, flush toilet and wash basin with hot and cold taps. The overhead light switched on in the usual way, but the bulb was unusually shaped.

She washed her hands and face in the basin and dried with a towel made of rough fabric. There seemed to be a peculiar mix of modern conveniences and traditional homespun lifestyle in this house on ‘New Scotland’ in the twenty-sixth century.

When she returned to the bedroom clothes had been laid out. They were simple and hardwearing and of a style she knew from pictures of Bute in the 1950s when farming wives were used to doing their share of manual work around the farm or dairy.

She dressed and found her way downstairs. An open door led her into a large farm kitchen with a big scrubbed table in the centre and a magnificent solid fuel range. There was a fragrant stew cooking and fresh herbs hanging from a ceiling beam.

As she looked around the kitchen from the ‘golden age’ she saw a flash of blue through the window. It was the TARDIS being carted into the yard. She rushed outside and watched as four muscular young men called to each other in broad Scots accents while they hauled the police box down from the cart and set it on the flagstone-covered ground.

“It looks all right,” Jean admitted as she reached for her key and opened the door. The lights came on in the console room and she crossed the threshold while the men looked inside curiously.

She really hoped there WAS a note of some sort, a pencil mark on one of the switches, something to tell her which was the emergency homing switch.

“Doctor, for heaven sake, which one IS it?”

There was no answer. She had hoped there was some way he could communicate with her, some other protocol he had put in place for emergencies.

But there was nothing.

“Are you all right in there?” The voice that spoke to her was not The Doctor’s, but one of the men who had brought the TARDIS back. “I’m Malcolm. Can I help you?”

“You’re the one who found us. You’ve done so much already.”

“It was nothing any man wouldn’t do. I’m glad you’re up and about.”

“I feel fine. I must have just bumped my head when we landed. But… I think… unless I can work out what to do, I’m stranded here. The Doctor is sick… very sick… and I can’t fly the TARDIS on my own. He didn’t tell me what to do.”

“Come on back into the house and have some tea. Things will sort themselves out one way or another.”

It was the only thing she could do. She let Malcolm guide her back towards the kitchen. Maureen was there kneading bread at one end of the big table. He made the tea while Jean sat at the far end of the table and watched the lady of the house at her task. She remembered her aunt making home-made bread in a kitchen much like this one except with an electric cooker and a washer and dryer in the corner.

It was comforting to think that things were so familiar even if she was so very far from home.

“So you’ve lived on this planet all your lives?” she asked, just to make conversation. “You were born here?”

“Yes,” Malcolm told her. “We’re the third generation since the original settlers – our grandparents, John and Flora Gordon. Our father, another John, took over the farm from them and Maureen and I inherited the property from him when he died five years ago. When Maureen takes a husband, she’ll have a half share in money and livestock to take with her to her own farmstead and then this property will be mine.”

“Of course,” Jean acknowledged. “That avoids breaking up the farms into smaller and smaller lots in each generation as happened in the tenant farmer days in Scotland and Ireland – resulting in plots of land too small to be financially viable and leading to hand to mouth subsistence farming.”

“Indeed,” Malcolm agreed. “Alban Nuadh was chosen for colonisation because it looked and felt so much like Scotland. Our forebears wanted to get on with minimum technology, to live with the natural environment, not against it, to work the land as we would have done if the clearances of the Eighteenth century and the creation of huge estates for the rich Sasanachs to hunt deer all over hadn’t spoilt our home country.”

“And has it worked in that way?”

“I think it has,” Malcolm told her. “My mother, when she came here as a bride, insisted on the modern bathroom, solar powered, and the water purified and recycled.” Jean looked dubiously at her tea. Malcolm laughed.

“The drinking water comes from a spring up the mountain, a fine, healthy source. Plumbing is one part of technology we don’t want to live without.

“It sounds idyllic,” Jean conceded. “I mean… hard work, of course, but in a healthy way.”

“You’re from the home country itself?” Maureen asked her.

“I’m from Bute,” she admitted. “But I work on the mainland. Tour guide at the Culloden centre. At least… I did. I will… if I get home again. If The Doctor can’t help me, then I don’t know what will happen.”

“Your friend doesn’t look as if he’s fit to go anywhere, just yet,” Maureen told her. “I think you should stay here for a while, as our guest.”

“Oh….” Jean began.

“It’s no burden,” Malcolm assured her. “We have rooms to spare. Besides, you’re the first person from the home country either of us have known since our grandparents passed away. We’d be honoured to hear about it first-hand. Culloden… after all… it’s like a distant holy land to us.”

“It’s a muddy field full of tourists who haven’t a clue what they’re looking at most of the time,” Jean admitted. “But there IS something about being there when the sun is setting over the moor – as if you can almost hear the swords clashing.”

“There you ARE,” Maureen said with a smile. “We’ve never heard anyone say that who knew first hand. It will be lovely having you stay.”

“Well, you must let me help out around the place,” Jean conceded. “May I take a turn with that bread, for a start. And maybe there are other jobs I can do.”

Making bread was fun, for Jean, at least. It was probably just an everyday chore for Maureen. Taking the stones out of damsons to make jam, preparing the evening meal without resort to a microwave or handily frozen portions of food, were likewise interesting experiences for a visitor, but all in the day’s work for the woman of the house.

It passed the time, and she worried less than she expected about The Doctor and about how or when she would get home.

For a while, in the evening, she forgot about both problems altogether. She enjoyed supper with Maureen and Malcolm and afterwards the latter asked her if she would like to take a walk.

“I always have a quiet stroll in the evening,” he said. “To see the sky above me as the sun sets. You’ve not yet seen the countryside properly. I think you’ll find it pleasing.”

“Yes, I’d like that,” Jean agreed. She put on a pair of strong walking shoes and a coat and followed Malcolm out past the yard where the TARDIS still stood, mute and dark in low power mode. They took a path that led across a rushing stream that Malcolm called Gordon’s Burn. Jean was a little surprised by that. She really had been away from Scotland too long. She had forgotten that she, too, would have called a body of running water like that a ‘burn’ before she went away from her home and familiar things of that sort.

The land rose gently on the other side of the burn, then a little more steeply. But this wasn’t meant to be a hill-climbing expedition, just a gentle stroll. Malcolm brought her to a place where the view widened out and they could see miles of cultivated land, meadows where cattle grazed, the houses and barns clustered together to make other farmsteads and in the far distance, the rooftops of a small town.

“New Inver,” Malcolm said of the town. “It’s mostly a market, but also the administrative centre of this region – a bank, the county hall - where we send our taxes, the court in case of any kind of dispute….”

“You sound as if you don’t go there very often,” Jean commented.

“Me, twice a year for the cattle mart. Maureen goes once a month. She buys cloth to make up dresses, books and magazines, bits and pieces for the house – anything we can’t make for ourselves.”

“There… does seem to be a demarcation between men’s work and women’s, here,” Jean said, choosing her words as diplomatically as possible. “Is farmer’s wife the only occupation open to a woman?”

“It’s an agricultural economy. Farming is the main work for everyone. But not every woman is a farmer’s wife. Plenty of women have properties in their own names. As for other occupations – I’ve a cousin who is a barrister, and her wife teaches at the college.”

“HER wife? Jean queried. “So… it’s not….”

Malcolm smiled. He seemed to know what she was thinking without her struggling for words to express herself with.

“We haven’t gone back in time socially. We’re not some kind of kirk-obeying puritans seeing the devil in all new ideas. We just chose a less noisy kind of life, without so much technology. People here can be what they want to be. The land isn’t over-populated. There’s no poverty and just about any ambition can be worked towards.”

“Except rocket scientist, I suppose?” Jean suggested. “No, that sounded patronising. I think you have a good life, here. It’s a beautiful place. It really does look like Scotland without telephone wires and electricity pylons running across it.”

The sun was starting to set as they walked and the sort of view that had poets waxing lyrical about purple heather and the sun afire in the heavens spread before them. New Inver was recognisable by the cluster of lights in its streets. Lamps were lit in the windows of the farm houses. The air itself took on a new fragrance as the stars brightened. Jean closed her eyes and breathed in deeply and then cried a little because she was so very far from home and yet in a place that looked and felt, and even smelt like it WAS home.

“My family,” she said when she ran out of tears. “If I can’t get home to them, they’ll worry. They won’t know where I am. He didn’t think of that. He was too busy going on about Croydon.”


“It doesn’t matter. Really it doesn’t. I can’t make my mind up whether to be angry with The Doctor or worried because he’s ill. I want to shake him until he wakes and tells me how to get home and at the same time I’m scared he might be more sick than he made out, and if he was to die… I’d miss him so much. He’s more than a friend. He’s….”

“Your boyfriend?” Malcolm queried.

“No!” Jean was quick to correct him. “Nothing like that. He’s… like the very BEST friend I could imagine having. He’s saved my life loads of times, and I’ve saved his. He’s shown me amazing things all over space and time. He’s amazing, but he also makes me want to kick him sometimes, for being so thick about ordinary things like… getting us where we’re supposed to be. And this time he’s messed up so very badly that he really does need the biggest kicking ever, but I can’t even do that while he’s lying there in a coma or whatever it is.”

The tears threatened to come again. Malcolm put a gentle, reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“I think you need a good night’s sleep. Things will seem better in the morning. Or if they’re not, at least you’ll be able to think about them more easily.”

“Yes, you could be right,” Jean agreed. She let him guide her back to the Gordon farmstead, where lamps lit in most of the windows and made it look welcoming and homely. She let Maureen take over from him in seeing her to bed in the quiet, clean room that smelt of the weathered pine boards the house was built of. She slept much sooner than she expected.

The morning was bright and sunny like a summer morning in the Highlands. Jean washed and dressed and went first to look at The Doctor. He hadn’t moved from the stiff, lifeless position he was in. He was still breathing shallowly and his hearts were beating once every few minutes.

She left him as he was and went downstairs to find Maureen serving breakfast. It consisted of porridge followed by bacon and eggs and cornbread with honey as well as coffee. It was the largest breakfast Jean had eaten in a long time.

“We work hard all day, both within and without the house,” Maureen pointed out. “The calories are needed.”

“Of course,” Jean conceded. “What would you like me to do? I ought to help in any way that I can.”

“Have you ever churned butter before?” Maureen asked.

“Yes, I have,” Jean answered. “Not for years, though. I think I’m going to pay for my easy lifestyle by lunchtime. My muscles will get an unexpected workout.”

And they did. Constantly turning the handle on the heavy wooden churn was hard work. When that was done, she had to use the same aching arm muscles to press the buttermilk out of the butter and pat it into dense, edible blocks before wrapping them in greaseproof paper and storing them in the cold room.

Maureen and Jean ate a lunch of bread and cheese in the kitchen at midday. Malcolm had taken his meal with him up the mountain where he was felling trees to build a new barn.

“You seem thoughtful?” Maureen prompted her as she shared a jug of fresh buttermilk between them.

“I’m trying to decide something,” Jean answered. She put her mobile phone on the table. “The Doctor fixed this so I can call home any time and from anywhere. But I don’t know if I should call them or not. I don’t know what to say. The worst case scenario is that I am stuck here forever… or as near to forever as makes any difference. Fifty or sixty years. I’m thirty. That’s a lifetime. How do I tell my family I won’t be home for that long. And if I do tell them, and then I find out how to get the TARDIS home after all, I’ll have worried them for nothing.”

“Wait a few days to send the message, then. Think about it. Maybe The Doctor isn’t as badly hurt as that. Perhaps he’ll recover.”

“I keep hoping… that he’ll come down the stairs and say something really stupid. He’s the greatest genius in the universe, but he SAYS really stupid things sometimes – and I really wish he would.”

“You really do need a few days. Malcolm said so last night. He said you needed to breath our air for a while.”

“I think I do,” Jean admitted. “It’s been amazing travelling with The Doctor, but sometimes I think I just need to sit quiet and think slow thoughts until my head stops spinning.”

She gave it a week – seven days of milking, churning, butter-making, bread-making, and most importantly, walks at sunset with Malcolm.

Yes, as much as she enjoyed his sister’s company as they shared the work in the house and the dairy, it was that hour in Malcolm’s company - the magic hour when the sun turned the valley to magnificent shades - which she came to treasure.

She was into the second week when she helped Maureen make cheese, proudly producing a firm, curling stone sized ‘round’ that went in the storeroom to ripen.

“It’ll take three months to be ready to eat,” she noted as Maureen selected one made months before for making cheese flans and for putting in Malcolm’s daily lunch box.

“You might be with us to taste it,” Maureen suggested, and the idea didn’t fill her with dismay as she expected. In fact, the thought of leaving before the cheese she had made had ripened bothered her more.

And not having those walks in the evening with Malcolm.

That was what made her decide on what to say in the message to Uncle Iain that she sent one evening.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m alive and I’m happy, but I might not get back to Earth for quite a while. Love to everyone – Jean.”

Then she left her phone in the console room of the TARDIS and closed the door on that part of her life for now.

She had been staying on the Gordon farmstead for nearly a month when she went with Maureen to the market town she had glimpsed only from a distance until then. Maureen had a list of goods she needed, including a new ladle for the kitchen and salt, which was sold by the pound at a stall redolent of exotic spices.

She also went to several stalls selling bolts of cloth, feeling the fabrics and comparing the dyes.

“Jean, Malcolm gave me money to get you some dress lengths,” she said. “You ought to have some clothes of your own, not just my old ones. Apart from anything else, you’re a bit taller than me, and slimmer around the waist. We’ll make some dresses that fit you properly.”

“Oh!” To say that Jean was surprised would be an understatement. “That’s kind of him. But… I mean…. I don’t have any way of paying him back.”

“You’ve earned a few new dresses helping me in the dairy,” Maureen told her. “Let’s pick some REALLY pretty fabrics so that he knows the money is well spent.”

Few women could resist an offer like that. Jean looked at the colours and patterns with enthusiasm, taking Maureen’s advice about quality and wearability.

Of course a dress needed buttons and there was some very nice lace on the same stall that would adorn a collar. And she bought a hat with a wide brim that she thought would look nice for those evening walks.

Of course, the TARDIS Wardrobe could have provided everything she needed, but she thought about that part of her life less and less with every day that passed here on Alban Nuadh.

She still checked on The Doctor every day, assuring herself that he was no worse and no better. She deliberately reminded herself to do that. It would have been easy to forget he was there, lying so quietly in the spare room. He didn’t really need looking after. He didn’t have to be fed or changing from the clean white shift he had been put in on the first day. But she thought it only right to look in on him.

She didn’t need to look in on the TARDIS, though. She asked Malcolm to store it at the back of the haybarn, out of everyone’s way, instead of taking up space in the yard.

It wasn’t long after she had made that decision - on one of those sunset walks, wearing her hat and a dress she had made for herself by the light of the solar lamps in the quiet evenings - when Malcolm first kissed her.

It was something that had been inevitable for a while, not only that he would kiss her, but that it would happen at sunset, when the valley was looking like a scene from Rob Roy with the heather blazing in the deep orange of the slanting sunlight.

They walked back hand in hand, and though they didn’t say anything about it, Maureen smiled at them both knowingly.

And the next time the two women went to the market, they looked at imported white satins and hand-made lace to make two wedding dresses.

“You should have done it ages ago, shouldn’t you,” Jean said to her future sister-in-law. “You held off because you didn’t want to abandon Malcolm.”

“I suppose it was a bit of that,” Maureen answered. “But I also wanted Frazer to realise I wasn’t a sure thing.”

Jean had met Frazer Mackay several times by now. He came from the neighbouring farm to have supper with the Gordons and to talk about the price of cattle and other agricultural matters with Malcolm. Inevitably, though, he would spend as much time talking with Maureen.

The double wedding took place in the best parlour of the Gordon farm, officiated by the local justice of the peace and attended by a dozen or so friends of both families. After the wedding reception, Maureen was cheered off on a flower-festooned two-hander while a similarly decorated cart followed behind with her share of furniture and linen, tableware and kitchen utensils. Her dowry of livestock and produce had already been sent to the MacKay farm.

When the guests had departed, Malcolm and Jean settled together in their own house to enjoy the first evening of their married life. They didn’t take a walk tonight. It was already long past sunset when the celebrations were over and besides, autumn was well set in by now and it was cold out.

Jean’s first winter was a long, hard one. Malcolm had prepared for it by bringing the cattle down from the mountain into meadows close to the farmhouse. He had butchered a bullock and preserved the meat. He had stored grain in the silo, fruit and vegetables in cool, dry racks. Jean had made cheese and butter, fruit preserves and pickles to make the winter meals interesting. The house was battened down against the blizzards that turned the landscape into a frozen white wilderness overnight and ensured that it stayed that way for months on end.

By the time spring started to melt the icicles that hung from the eaves and roads were clear of snow, Jean had news for friends she hadn’t seen all winter. She was expecting a baby.

Maureen had the same news to report when she visited her brother and sister-in-law. The two births would be a week apart in the late summer.

The two women spent a lot of time together during the spring and early summer. They shared all the problems of pregnancy, the backache, the cravings, the swollen ankles. They shared the joys of feeling the babies grow, the first movements, the kicks that grew stronger daily. They sewed and knitted complete layettes while their husbands made spare bedrooms into nurseries ready for the arrival.

When she gave birth to a baby boy, named Iain after Jean’s uncle on Earth, she carried the baby into the quiet room that was only rarely visited these days.

“Doctor,” she said. “This is my son. I would have named him after you except I don’t know what your name is. I wish you could see him. I wish my aunt and uncle on Earth could see him. But those are my only regrets. I am about as happy as it is possible to be, and in a funny sort of way I think it’s down to you for bringing me here, even if it wasn’t what was meant to happen.”

When baby Iain was a curious toddler, Malcolm fixed a lock on the door to that room, giving the key to Jean to use when she needed to. It didn’t seem quite right for the little boy to wander into a room where a strange man lay in a permanent state that was not quite death and not quite life.

Jean went in there once a month, just to make sure The Doctor was all right.

She went in there with her newborn daughter, called Susan, a name she had heard The Doctor mention once with a wry smile. He didn’t respond when she said the name. She had not expected him to.

In the course of time, Iain grew to be a strong young man with his father’s love of the land they farmed. His marriage to a pretty and capable girl called Margery was almost as proud a day as when Susan married her first cousin, Gerald MacKay, who was born a week later than her brother.

Malcolm retired from working the farm after a bout of pneumonia one winter weakened his chest. He signed the deeds over to his son and spent his days in light work and quiet hobbies. During the longer, warmer days of spring and summer and early autumn, he and Jean always took their walk around sunset. In the winter, they were content to sit by the window in the parlour and look at the snow-covered vista that they loved.

Iain and Margery’s youngest daughter, Fiona, was eighteen years old when something happened that surprised everyone in the house. The girl was carrying a pile of freshly laundered linen up to her parent’s bedroom when she heard a strange noise. At first she thought one of the solar lights was shorting out, then she saw a door slowly opening – a door she had never seen open in her whole life. A strange man stepped out onto the landing. He was dressed in a night shift and his face was pale, angular and decidedly odd.

“Jean?” he queried.

“No!” Fiona managed. “I’m… I’m… Jean is my grandmother. She’s… downstairs.”

The strange man was puzzled, but he followed her downstairs and into the parlour. He looked at the elderly woman who sat sewing in a rocking chair. She looked back at him and her expression froze.

“Fifty years,” she said. “Almost to the day.”

“Why didn’t you go home, like I told you to?” The Doctor asked. “Why didn’t you just leave me in the TARDIS?”

“This IS my home,” Jean answered. “The TARDIS is in the barn, buried and forgotten. I didn’t want you to be forgotten with it, even though you probably deserved it for being so stupid as to forget to tell me how to operate the ‘emergency homing switch’.”

“I forgot?” The Doctor was appalled. “Jean… do you mean….”

“Malcolm is looking after a calf that’s mother can’t feed it,” Jean said. “He’ll be in soon. Everyone will be. We’ll have tea, and talk about everything. Most of the family don’t even know the full story.”

It was the strangest conversation she had ever had. Her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter were astonished that they had lived in the house for so long without knowing about the alien in the locked room. The Doctor was surprised to see how well Jean had adapted to being a wife and mother, even a grandmother in the passing years.

“This IS my home, now,” Jean said again when she came to the end of the story. “Earth… is a long time ago. It’s too late.”

“But your family….” The Doctor questioned.

“You need to tell them. Go back to the time when I left… and tell them everything. Tell them how happy I’ve been. Tell them it was YOUR fault. Don’t try to weasel out of that. But tell them I have no regrets at all. It has been the best life I could have hoped for.”

“And that was all,” The Doctor admitted to Clara. “The only thing I could do was leave her there, with her husband, her children, her grandchildren.”

“Except for me,” Fiona said. “I have grown up on stories about the old world, about Scotland. I knew this was my chance to see it for real. I asked my father to let me go with The Doctor. He promised to leave me with grandma’s aunt and uncle on Bute… on the actual Isle of Bute.”

“I hope it lives up to your expectations,” Clara told her kindly. “But, Doctor… Why did you come to me, to tell me all of this?”

She looked at him and was shocked to see him crying.

“Because… I didn’t know if I COULD tell this story to Jean’s family. I needed to practice it on somebody else, first.”

Clara rolled her eyes. She thought of several things she COULD say to The Doctor about that strategy.

But there was only one thing she actually WOULD say.

“I’ll come with you – for moral support. Not so much for you, but for Jean’s folks. This is going to be a hell of a shock to them.”

“Thank you,” The Doctor said in a tone that was as sincere as anything she had ever heard him say.