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

“I want to talk to you!” he yelled out. “Guardian, I’m talking to you. I know you can hear me. I want to talk to you before I go any further in this quest.”

His voice echoed away into the distance and he waited.

“I’m waiting,” he called out, and tapped his foot impatiently to indicate his feelings.

“I am here,” said a deep, sonorous voice. The Doctor turned to see the Guardian in his ‘Man from Del Monte’ suit standing behind him. “What is your reason for calling me? You are not yet finished with your quest.”

“Is this for real?” he demanded. “Are you really going to give me my life back at the end of this ‘quest’? Or is it just a big trick?”


“Why was the Celestial Toymaker involved so often?” My second task was to complete his trilogic puzzle. Then I was tipped into a Calabi Yau universe such as he created for his toyland. And now I’ve come across the man himself in Blackpool. Is he involved in your plan? Are you working with him to trip me up in some way?”

“Doctor, I am astonished by your lack of faith in the Guardians,” the Guardian answered. “Surely you know that the Toymaster, or The Mandarin, is a Renegade from our society of Eternals. He has no favour with any of us. The tests are drawn from your own experiences and the fact that you have encountered him many times in your lives caused the coincidence of his occurring in this last test. You defeated him?”


“Good. Then there is no need to worry about him any further. You may safely go on to the next task.”

“I’ve encountered the Daleks and Cybermen many times in my lives. Am I going to have to fight them, too?”

“I cannot tell,” The Guardian answered him. “The tests are drawn from your own experiences in each of your lives.”

“Yes, you said. Being forewarned of the likes of those would help, though.”

“I cannot tell.”

“Yes, all right. Don’t go all automaton on me. I get it. If you’re sure this isn’t some plot, then you might as well toddle off again and I’ll get on with it.”

“I am a Guardian,” The Guardian pointed out. “I do not ‘toddle’ anywhere. Nor do I usually come here on demand. I will see you again when your tasks are complete.”

That was a brush off and a censure at the same time. The Doctor did his best to resist saying anything cutting or sarcastic. The Guardians considered themselves, and generally were, above even the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Even when he was one of a multitude of Time Lords he felt inferior to the Guardians. Now he was on his own it was even worse.

The Guardian left while he was in the middle of his introspection. He turned and walked up to the eighth door. He inserted the playing piece shaped like Blackpool Tower into the elaborately detailed model of Blackpool under the glass case. There was a soft click and the door opened.

He stepped through and found the usual things waiting for him. He picked up the globe filled with softly swirling smoke and familiar faces that tugged at his hearts. Rose, of course, and her mother. Jack Harkness, a thorn in his side a lot of the time, but still tugging at those hearts-strings in his own way. Mickey, who started off a coward but came out well in the end thanks to his example. Even Rose’s dad, Pete, who they met in such difficult circumstances, reminded him that his Ninth life influenced the lives of so many others.

“So where will I be sent next time, and will it rip the hearts from me?” he asked, turning from the globe to the glass case with the clue to his destination.

It looked like a mini arboretum with small trees growing within it. The Doctor stared for a long time and wondered what it had to do with his Ninth life.

“Oh!” he murmured when he finally understood. “Oh, yes, of course.”

The TARDIS landed in a forest. In long gone times it would have disguised itself as a tree, now. A police box was, at least, easier to find.

It was early morning. A slanting sun’s rays filtered through the foliage. There was dew on the ground. He could almost hear the soft sighs of the trees as their roots took in the cool liquid.

Almost, but not quite. Even on Cheem the rooted trees didn’t communicate directly. They were, in most respects, just trees.

Except every tree was a kind of soul-mate, a symbiot, with one of the amazing sentient wood people of Cheem whom he had first met up with on Platform One at the ‘End of the World Party’ thrown by the Face of Boe.

Memories of Jabe were bittersweet. Her in-your-face flirting had been good for his ego so early into his new existence when his relationship with Rose hadn’t quite blossomed – puns absolutely intended. Her courage and resourcefulness had impressed him. Her self-sacrifice for the sake of others was a mark on his own soul – particularly because he hadn’t saved her.

“I couldn’t,” he told the trees around him. “If I had tried, she would still have died and I would have lost the chance to save everyone else.”

Of course, there was no response, not one in ordinary words. Instead, a shower of blossom covered his shoulders. It might have been coincidence or it might have been some deep, unfathomable response from the soul of the tree.

He walked on until he reached the edge of the forest. He still wasn’t entirely sure what he was meant to do. Bring a cutting or something for the bonsai forest? If so, he wasn’t going to take it without permission.

Jabe had given him a gift of ‘a cutting from her grandfather’ on Platform One. It was a small tree now, growing in the Cloister Room of the TARDIS where Rose had planted it after that adventure. That room had changed itself several times, along with the rest of the TARDIS, but plants still grew there as easily as they did in real soil.

He needed another gift like that one. He strongly felt that was the best way to obtain a piece of Cheem without offence or harm to the people.

The forest was on the slope of a hill going down into a valley. A river at the bottom sparkled in the sunshine. So did something much bigger. He walked down towards what proved to be one of the biggest greenhouses he had seen outside of the planet K’ew, the horticultural wonder of the Milky Way Galaxy. It was a half sphere made up of thousands of metre wide hexagonal panes of glass. The panes nearest the ground were polarised so that the outside was matt black, but higher up they glowed with a golden light. These were solar energy collectors providing electrical energy for the work that went on inside.

He found a door and entered. There was no lock and no guard. People were free to come into what he quickly realised was a huge nursery. He knew very well that on Cheem a plant nursery and a child nursery were one and the same thing. The saplings being grown under the clear glass roof – the solar panels viewed from underneath – were the newborn infants of this world.

It was a strange sight, row upon row of baby trees with legs and arms and a face formed from a knot of wood just beneath the canopy of leaves. Some of them were asleep, their wrinkled faces at peace and limbs folded. A soft snoring sound came from them.

Others were awake and active, rustling their leaves and waving their twiglet limbs around as they played.

One or two were fractious. They shook their canopies in an agitated way and the rustle was demanding. Young tree people hurried to attend to them, switching on cooling showers over their heads. The Doctor put his finger under one of the showers and tasted the water. It was pure spring water with special plant nutrients added - rather bitter to his taste, but nectar to the tree babies.

“Hello, are you a visitor?” asked a voice like spring blossom might have if it were imagined by somebody like Vivaldi. The young tree smiled at him courteously, but clearly puzzled by his appearance.

His hearts lurched at the sight of her.


“No, sir,” she answered. “I am Jabin. Jabe was my mother tree. I came from a sapling taken from her. I remember her when I was very young, coming to the nursery to see me. But she died before I was able to walk.”

“I know,” The Doctor said. “I was there… when she died. She saved a lot of people with her own sacrifice.”

“I was told that by my uncles who were there with her. Are you the man… the one she was with… The Doctor?”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered truthfully, ready to accept any bitter recriminations the child of Jabe might have for him.

“Then you are welcome, sir. My uncles told of your courage, too. You are honoured by the trees of Cheem. I, most of all.”

“I hope I am worthy of that honour,” he replied humbly. He felt more than a little guilty in the presence of Jabe’s child.

Of course, Cheem families were not the simplified units that humans and Gallifreyans defined – mother, father, children. Jabe was a beech tree, and all other beeches were her kin. Jabin was not bereft of a parent. Rather she was proud that one so closely related to her was renowned for acts of bravery.

But that didn’t stop him feeling guilty all the same.

“I….” he began, trying to think of a way of bringing the subject of tree cuttings into a conversation. “That is….”

An alarm cut off the rather lame sentence before he embarrassed himself completely. Jabin looked at a monitor on the woven belt around her waist, then began to run. Other trees were running the same direction. The Doctor ran, too.

“What’s happening?” he asked as he watched the trees begin to move the young out of one section of the nursery. These ones were all crying out loud in a tone that suggested pain. The Doctor grabbed two of the pots and ran with them into the safe area where they were being given comforting showers. He turned back and noted how very bright the light was in the evacuated section. The solar panes were much clearer than elsewhere, letting in far too much direct, unfiltered sunlight onto the saplings. They were being sunburned.

As he looked, the panes darkened slightly and the alarm went off again, indicating a problem elsewhere. Again the nursery staff ran to bring the young to safety.

“What’s causing this?” The Doctor asked when the second group of baby trees were having a refreshing drink. “The panels must be controlled somewhere? What could cause a breakdown like that?”

“I don’t know.” Jabin answered his second question first. “The control computer is in the sub-basement.”

“Just promise me there aren't any weird revolving blades and impassable chasms to cross,” he said. “And show me the way.”

“Revolving blades?” Jabin was shocked. “Blades are the weapons carried by the enemies of Cheem,” she said. “They are never found here, nor are flames of any sort, except by accident.”

“I hope so,” The Doctor said to her. He followed her onto a small platform that proved to be a lift down to the lower basement she spoke of. It smelt something like a potting shed, of damp compost, and was dark except for ultra violet spots every few metres. They illuminated a place where seedlings were raised.

“The incubators for new plantlings,” Jabin explained. “Not yet ready to be exposed to the full sunlight.”

“Yes,” The Doctor acknowledged. “You know, on Earth, where your species evolved a very long time ago, people would find this hard to believe.”

“So I understand,” Jabin responded. “We who are too young to have travelled offworld find the idea of flesh and blood beings incredible, but we accept the truth of other kinds of sentient life.”

“Glad to hear it.”

The Doctor wondered, idly, what Jabin’s people might make of Human fairy tales featuring heroic woodcutters with their axes, or even the likes of Jack and the Beanstalk. Those wouldn’t be tales told in her nursery – more like horror stories for the Cheem equivalent of Halloween.

“The central control is ahead,” Jabin said. “It is watched over by Hogan, the old man of the Mahogany family. He is one of our wisest elders. He designed this nursery when he was still a young tree.”

“I should very much like to meet him,” The Doctor said.

But when they passed through a door – made of thick, opaque glass, not wood, of course – they were both shocked to find Hogan lying amongst a pile of splinters, his body horrifically gashed by edged weapons of the sort that should not have been permitted on Cheem.

“Hang in there, old man,” The Doctor said, kneeling at his side. “I think you’ll be all right. Your central root isn’t damaged. We’ll have you on your feet in no time.”

The old tree man tried to raise his gnarly, twisted arm, but there was a lot of damage at the place where it branched off from his trunk. The Doctor used a length of bandage in the bottom of his bottomless pocket to make a temporary repair.

“Sabotage,” he managed to say. “Please help the little ones.”

“I’m on it, now,” The Doctor promised. He left Hogan in the care of young Jabin and pulled up a chair to the screen of the semi-organic computer databank. He could see immediately what had been done. A virus programme had been fed into the system making the panes of glass alter their opacity and radiation filtering randomly. He opened the machine code and searched for the bad programme. It stuck out like a sore thumb to somebody who could read machine code as easily as Egyptian hieroglyphics or Ancient Gallifreyan, but editing it out, cleaning the programme, was harder. His fingers flew over the four-hundred character keyboard, but the virus was writing itself almost as fast as he was deleting it.

Almost, but not quite. The Doctor was chasing it all over the stream of code, and catching up rapidly. At last he deleted the last string and the data was clean. He checked the programme and was satisfied that the nursery was working normally again.

He turned, triumphantly, only to see Jabin kneeling upright, very still and quiet. A hatchet was pressed against her neck. One swing would decapitate her.

“Why?” he asked the young pine who held the hatchet. “Why do something so terrible to your own kind?”

“They are not my own kind,” he replied in a cold, prickly voice. “The deciduous tribes look down on the evergreens. We are passed over for promotion. We are under-represented in every canton, and at the planetary parliament. In winter, we endure the harshest snows. In summer, when drought threatens, water is diverted to them at our expense.”

“I don’t know if any of that is true,” The Doctor told him. “I don’t know enough about Cheem politics. But even if it is true, murdering trees is not the answer. Terrorism is NEVER the answer to any grievance. You must find a way for varieties of tree to live in peace with each other.”

The Doctor felt as if that was the strangest sentence he had ever uttered. On every planet he had ever tried to make peace between factions, he had never thought of the trees as belligerent parties. Nature was usually in harmony with itself, at least.

But this was Cheem. The trees were sentient, and sentience always seemed to go hand in hand with belligerence and grievance of some sort.

“It’s not true,” Jabin said in a frightened voice. “Evergreens are given every opportunity to advance. But they spurn our help. They break down the nurseries and the schools we build. They refuse to integrate into the wider tree society, keeping to their own coppices and their own traditions.”

“Be quiet or I will break you in two,” the pine told her, moving the hatchet closer to her neck. “You… foreigner with fleshy body… open the communicator over there. Tell the government in Oak-City that I have you three as hostages and bombs planted in four places around the nursery. If my demands are not met, I am not afraid to die for the cause of Pine Equality.”

A fanatic! The Doctor sighed wearily. They were the worst. Any kind of freedom fighter might be reasoned with apart from the ones who were prepared to die for their cause.

“No,” he said calmly. “I’m a stranger, a nobody here. If I call the government it would be meaningless. Let her do it – one of their own – and take me in her place. My neck will come off just as easily as a wooden one.”

The pine hesitated briefly, then pulled the axe away from Jabin’s neck, before pushing her forward. The Doctor stepped towards him. He bent to kneel where Jabin had been, but in a swift movement, while the axe was still away from his body, he swept the feet from under the pine and knocked him to the ground. The axe fell just out of reach as The Doctor grappled the terrorist, wondering exactly how to subdue a tree person. Were the pressure points in the same places as they were for flesh beings?

He was still working that out when two security guards arrived, alerted by Jabin as soon as she was free of the axe. They took over the arrest of the pine, and arranged for medics to come for Hogan.

“Was he telling the truth about the bombs?” Jabin asked.

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered her. “But we need to find out. Infant lives could still be in danger. Can you evacuate the nursery quickly?”

“Above, yes, but not the incubators. The seedlings would die in the light.”

“Do what can be done. Get as many out as possible – in case I can’t do it in time.”

Jabin nodded and hurried to gather her colleagues together to start moving the hundreds of tree young from the dome. The Doctor turned back to the computer that monitored and controlled the environment within the nursery. He searched quickly for the tell tale signs of the bombs. It was surprisingly difficult. Many of the organic compounds used as plant nutrients had chemical factors in common with explosive materials. But he located the four likely places.

The first was in the food preparation area, almost hidden by those natural chemicals stored there. It was, indeed, a crude, hand made device. The pine equality fanatics were not well equipped for their campaign. That made it all the harder, though. A hand-made bomb was unstable. He had to work both fast and carefully, not always an easy combination.

He disarmed the first and raced to find the next on the other side of the dome, in the chamber where the new cuttings were first potted – in essence the delivery room for new tree life. Again, there were the natural and normal chemicals present, but The Doctor had located an unnatural concentration hidden in a cupboard. He quickly worked to make it safe.

The evacuation of the dome was complete as he raced across the now eerily quiet floor to the waiting room where visitors came to see their new sapling kin. Again disarming the bomb was a delicate and dangerous operation.

One more. It had been the hardest to detect on the sensors, and when he went down into the huge storeroom where composts and plant nutrients were bulk stored, he knew that it would be sheer luck if he found this one in time. His eyes and his ears were the only senses he could use. He stood quietly, holding his breath, and listened for the very faint tick of the bomb mechanism. Having worked out a general direction, he then needed to search with his eyes for the device. His superior Gallifreyan eyesight helped him process the small amount of light in the cool, dark storage and allowed him to spot the deadly metal box. He looked at it carefully and realised this was the prime bomb. This one would have set off all the others, ensuring complete destruction of the dome. This one might still collapse the roof of the incubator level and kill the seedlings.

He couldn’t let that happen. He pulled the cover off the bomb and examined the mechanism carefully. This was a little more sophisticated, as if the fanatics had stretched their budget to one really good bomb.

For all that he was a pacifist who hated guns and bombs, The Doctor was proficient with both. He had been a soldier and a freedom fighter at various times in his life. He had defended his own world and countless others. He knew both how to make and dismantle bombs. He recalled grimly the first adventure of his Ninth incarnation, when he had planted a bomb in the shop where Rose worked in order to destroy the Nestene transmitter there. He remembered the desperate fight on the Gamestation when every gun, every possible way to fight the Daleks was employed, including the terrible weapon of mass destruction he had made himself and had been, for a while, prepared to use.

He was closer to the ideals of the Pine Faction than they might have realised, but murdering infants wasn’t his idea of waging war.

“Can I help?” Jabin’s soft voice sounded close by his ear. He had been concentrating so hard he didn’t hear her come in. She stepped closer and he heard her sharp intake of breath when she saw the bomb.

“Put your finger on that metal screw,” The Doctor said. It was too late to tell her to go away. In the next half minute he would either disarm this bomb or blow up with it. She had no time to escape. But an extra pair of hands, even twig-shaped hands with knots for knuckles might just be the edge he needed.

“Oh no,” he murmured as he got through the primary circuit and looked at the wiring directly connected to the packed explosives. “Not the old red wire, blue wire….”

In fact, the wires were purple and yellow, but the principle was the same. Cutting one would disarm the bomb. Cutting the other would blow it up instantly.

“I trust you, Doctor,” Jabin said, reaching out the hand that wasn’t still holding down the trigger screw. He grasped it in his spare hand, wood fingers entwined with flesh fingers as he reached to clip the yellow wire. He paused and looked at Jabin. Her mother would have said the same, even though she had only known him for a few hours.

He cut the wire.

They looked at each other and both breathed out. The Doctor embraced Jabin and kissed her on the forehead. That was an odd experience, but one he was thoroughly glad to be alive to experience.

“Let’s get your nursery back to normal,” he said. “You’ll have a devil of a time settling them all back to sleep after all this excitement.”

There wasn’t much he could do to help. It needed experienced tree nurses to look after the babies. The Doctor spent his time on a video conference with the Cheem government. He asked them searching questions about the treatment of the Pines, but he was satisfied there was no real inequality and that this had just been the work of fanatics.

“Try to make sure ordinary, law abiding Pines are not hurt by this,” he said. “People will be angry. They will lash out at those they perceive as responsible. That will only drive moderates towards extremism. Make sure that all trees live in harmony and understanding of each other and you will defeat the terrorists far better that way.”

“Your wisdom is known throughout the galaxy, Doctor,” said the Prime Elder of Cheem. “We will try to do as you say. It will be hard work, but we will try to bring about the unity we all desire.”

“Good man,” The Doctor replied.

“How can we reward you for your courageous efforts on our behalf,” the Prime Elder added. “Name your price, friend of Cheem.”

That was easy. When The Doctor bid farewell to Jabin and the nursery staff, he brought with him a cutting from Jabin’s father, Holly. Male cuttings were not fertile, and could be used purely for decoration or as very personal gifts for friends.

This was a very personal gift and he was fully determined to get it back when the quest was over. Meanwhile he brought it to the ninth door and set it among the other cuttings in the arrangement under the glass. The door clicked open.

“Here we go again,” he whispered. “For the tenth time.”