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

Jack smiled widely. The Doctor returned his smile and pressed the re-materialisation switch that brought them back to the nowhere place in no time with those interminable doors. He brought Liz 10’s mask to the glass case and pressed it into the moulded space where it fitted. There was a click and a snick and the lock unlocked. The last door opened up before him.

The Doctor felt peculiarly nervous about this last door. He hesitated, biting his lip thoughtfully.

Jack had only a small inkling of The Doctor’s dilemma, but it was enough to make him bide his time until his friend felt ready to take that last step. He took a step back and watched as The Doctor stepped forward through the open doors.

Jack went to follow once he was through, but although the black door was still open some kind of invisible force field prevented him from entering the room beyond. He tried several ways of getting through, but they all failed.

“Doctor!” he called out. “Can you hear me?”

He obviously couldn’t. He was looking into some kind of pool in the middle of the floor where something shiny cast eerie light upon everything.

He wasn’t alone. The strange character they had both dubbed ‘the Man From Del Monte’ was there. Jack moved closer so that he could at least HEAR what was going on.

“I’m here,” The Doctor said in a quiet, almost humbled tone. “I have done as you asked, thus far.”

This is it, Jack thought. This is where Del Monte Man turns out to be a fraud and betrays The Doctor’s trust.

“You have completed the Eleven tasks. There is one more labour – the Twelfth.”


“This one may be the one where you prove unworthy – the one you fail.”


“You must do it alone. You can have no help this time.”

“I understand,” The Doctor replied.

“Then go ahead. You know what to do.”

“No!” Jack yelled out loud as he saw what The Doctor intended to do. “No! It’s a trap. Don’t do it.”

But The Doctor couldn’t hear him. He stepped forward into the actinic pool and shimmered with it for a few seconds before he vanished.

“No!” Jack screamed again. He surged forwards as the force field vanished, but kept to his feet. Recovering his footing he ran at the Guardian angrily.

“Peace!” The Guardian held up a hand that acted almost as surely as the force field. Jack stopped in his tracks, feeling uncertain and a little foolish. “The Doctor is not harmed. This is just a portal into the ethereal plane where he must complete the last of his Labours. Come. Sit. Watch.”

Jack sat beside the pool of what looked like mercury trapped in an endless maelstrom of movement. The light reflected off his face as he looked into it, half-hoping to see some clue about what happened to The Doctor.

“Where is he? Don’t talk to me about ethereal planes. He must be SOMEWHERE. Is he safe?”

The Guardian waved a hand over the pool and it became still and quiet, reflecting Jack’s image like a mirror. Then it changed again and he was looking at The Doctor walking through a room so very white it was painful to look at.

“You see, he is safe,” The Guardian assured Jack.

The Doctor didn’t feel safe. Nor did he think he was in a white room. He could see nothing around him but vague dark shapes that were worse than total blackness.

He had dreamt about this place many times. It was the sort of dream that made him glad to wake up and feel the familiar hum of the TARDIS engines around him. In the dream, for some reason never explained, he had to pass through a place full of so many horrors that his very skin crawled at the thought of it and just taking the first step required every ounce of his courage. In the dream he knew he only had to keep going and it would be over, but the emotional and physical trauma of that place assailed him so fully he barely could keep on.

He was in that place, now. He had already made the first step and he was in the midst of the nameless, faceless, formless horror that scared him more than the whole assembly of the Dalek Parliament had scared him, more than facing an army of Cybermen – even more than trying to free his own mind of cyber-conversion. This was pure horror, pure evil, and it was all around him.

What he couldn’t see, his imagination filled in. Shapeless, pallid flesh waved half-made limbs towards him, trying to grab at him, trying to hold him back. Eyes looked at him from what ought to have been heads, but weren’t quite right. Brains without skulls to enclose them pulsed and spoke to him telepathically, demanding that he do something about their plight.

Where had all that come from? He tried to reason with himself. Where had he ever seen anything like that? Even the rejects from Davros’s science laboratories weren’t as terrible as that. It wasn’t a memory of seeing anything this horrible that had been conjured up in his imagination.

“Back to the nightmare dimensions,” he cried out. “You don’t exist in my reality. Away with you all.”

It worked, to a point. He was still in the darkness, and he was still scared of unknown horrors but at least they weren’t shapeless.

Now he faced terrors he could give a name to. He ducked as the claw of a Macra came out of the darkness ready to decapitate him with one pinch. He protected his eyes from the deadly fungal spores spat out by the semi-sentient plants of Spiridon. He threw himself to the ground as a Sea Devil death ray illuminated the darkness.

Old enemies appeared at every step. Zygon voices whispered hoarsely in his ear, threatening his destruction, the mechanical voice of WOTAN hysterically pronounced the doom of humanity while one of its slave built War Machines bore down on him. Tereleptils hissed their hatred of all non-reptilian life before his eyes.

They were real. This was no dream, no illusion. He was surrounded by everything that hated him, everything that he had defeated in his lifetime.

An Ice Warrior loomed before him. Ice Warrior’s always loomed. It was natural to six-foot-seven inch beings. It lumbered towards him hissing its vengeance.

Sontarans lumbered, too. But they didn’t loom. Their short stature was no cause for humour, though. They were as deadly a foe as any The Doctor had come into contact with, their single-minded devotion to martial duty overriding any other fact, including mercy and compassion which they regarded as weakness.

Autons were deadly because they had no mind, single or otherwise, just the compulsion to kill instilled by the Nestene Consciousness’s murderous intent.

Cybermen marched in step, their metal feet stomping against stone creating a sound like no other encroaching army ever made. It was a sound that struck fear in his hearts.

But far worse was the mere smell of static electricity in the air and that pulsating hum that heralded the Daleks. All his life they had pursued him. They had destroyed so much that he held dear. They had polluted so many good worlds and perverted the lives of so many races by their mere presence.

If he had ever thought about the nature of his eventual death, he would probably have expected the Daleks to kill him. They had tried so often. Sooner or later his luck had to run out.

Maybe this was it. Maybe this was when the Daleks got their chance, when he was here, in this darkness, alone and unarmed, unable to pull any clever trick to escape them.

Death by Dalek. Yes, it was inevitable. He could only run for so long.

He closed his eyes as the glowing eyestalks surrounded him, lighting up the darkness until he could identify which class of Dalek each of them was. He recognised the grey invasion Daleks with their satellite dishes on their backs like as Geisha’s bow. A special weapons Dalek pointed its heavy gun at him – a definite case of overkill. The strident voice of Dalek Supreme overruled them all as it issued its command to ‘exterminate’.

But the deadly rays never hit him. He looked around at the dark, echoing silence.

Was it an illusion after all?

No, it couldn’t have been. They were real, all of those enemies. They HAD been there. He didn’t feel that kind of overwhelming fear about hallucinations. He was The Doctor. He had more backbone than that.

It HAD been real. He kept telling himself that as the shock gradually receded and he felt his two hearts slow to a normal pace.

He was still in the dark and he still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do here. What was the task? What was he supposed to find?

Then a scream split the air. It was a woman’s scream, and one he knew well enough.

“Rose!” he cried out. “Rose, where are you?”

It was her, and she was in trouble. His hearts twanged again as he started to run, hoping he was going towards her voice.

It was impossible to tell. Sound came from every direction and none. He stopped running. Maybe he was getting further away, instead.

“Rose, I’m here,” he called out. “I’m here for you. I promise. I’m here to help.”

“Promise?” The tone of the voice changed. Now it was accusing. “Doctor, you have never kept your promises. You failed me, over and over again. You failed to protect me from the Void. You left me there.”

“No, I didn’t,” he protested. “Rose, you know that isn’t true. It wasn’t my fault. You slipped. I couldn’t reach you without being sucked through with you.”

“Then you should have done that,” she replied. “You should have died with me.”

“I had to save Earth. I had to keep the Void open until the Daleks and Cybermen were all gone.”

“That’s why you always broke your promises to me. Other people were always more important than me. That’s why you never deserved me, you never deserved my love.”

“That’s NOT true,” The Doctor answered, his hearts breaking as he heard such bitter censure from the first woman he had risked loving for so many centuries.

“You didn’t deserve MY love, either!” The sharp, accusing voice of Martha Jones cut him to the quick. “You never understood how much I loved you, how I would do anything for you – die for you if I had to.”

“I would never ask anyone to do that,” he responded. “Nobody has to die for ME. As for love… yes, I knew. But I wasn’t ready, and you KNEW that.”

“Nobody has to die for you?” He didn’t recognise the voice at first. Slowly the image of a brave young woman called Astrid filtered into his mind. Then other voices drowned her out. He knew some of them at once. There was Adric, whose death had weighed heavily on his soul for a long time. A less familiar voice, Lynda with a ‘y’ spoke up, too, and a simple Welsh parlour maid called Gwyneth. Even further back, tugging at his memory, was a girl called Katarina who he had hardly known before she was killed, and a tough, smart woman called Sara Kingdom who had seemed to be an enemy for much of the time before proving her loyalty to the cause of goodness and right in the universe at cost of her own life.

Others called out to him, people who had died unfortunate and unavoidable deaths, and all of them were accusing him. All of them condemned him for letting them make the ultimate sacrifice, dying to save either The Doctor or the planet, or both.

“I couldn’t save you,” he protested. “I tried. I tried so hard, but it was impossible. I’m sorry. I am so very sorry for every one of you.”

“You abandoned me!” The plaintive voice that haunted him next was unmistakeable. “You left me with great thumping holes in my memory and no explanation!”

“Donna, no!”

“What about us?” Two voices spoke together, both accusing. “Stranded in Manhattan, doomed to die before our proper time.”

“Amy, Rory!”

“Where were you, Doctor?” Another voice came out of the darkness. “Why weren’t you there when Earth needed you? When we needed you?”

“Jack!” The Doctor’s voice was breaking with anguish now. “Jack, no.”

“I lost so much… so many people I loved. The cost was just too high that time, and you weren’t there. You abandoned us all.”

“No!” The Doctor’s tone changed as the truth dawned on him. “No. Jack would never say that. He understands perfectly. Jack knows… he knows that Earth MUST stand alone sometimes, that I can’t always interfere in its affairs. Jack was there to stand for my values, to fight in my stead, and he did that willingly, even knowing the cost.”

“He’s right,” Jack protested. “I DO… I did all of that. I NEVER blamed him for what happened. I knew we had to stand on our own feet. What’s going on?” He looked accusingly at the Guardian. “What are you doing to him? What’s all of this about?”

“He has to face all of his fears and his doubts.”

“He’s The Doctor. He has no fears, or if he has, they’re perfectly understandable ones like the Daleks. As for doubts – I don’t believe it. He NEVER doubts himself.”

“He does, as you clearly saw. He needs to exorcise all of those ghosts to complete the quest.”

“It’s cruel,” Jack said. “And it’s wrong. Making him think that I blamed him for my misfortunes, making him think that people who loved him dearly would turn on him.”

“I’m not making that happen” the Guardian replied. “Somewhere in his sub-conscious there must have been seeds of uncertainty about the fate of those people. That is how the Cerebral Transducer works. It finds the fears and doubts, the anxieties of even the bravest man and makes him face them.”

“He doesn’t need to face anything. You have no idea what he has faced in his life – the horrors he’s seen. He doesn’t need anything conjuring up from his own head. It’s just… sadistic. Let him out of whatever it is and bring him back.”

“I can’t,” the Guardian said. “He must find his own way back to be worthy.”

“Worthy?” Jack’s tone was scornful. “You’ll never meet a more worthy man if you live for eternity.”

“I do,” the Guardian told him. “I AM an Eternal. And you are quite right. The Doctor is a remarkable man, even for his kind. I am confident he will prevail. But you must sit a little longer and be patient.”

“I don’t DO patient,” Jack responded, then he stood up and took a deliberate step back. The Guardian called out a warning, but he ignored it as he leapt forward into the pool of light.

He was plunged into darkness and almost immediately he was overwhelmed by a sense of fear and utter loathing of the nameless, shapeless, unseen horrors that he knew surrounded him.

“Nuts to that,” he told himself. “Doctor, where are you? It’s me, Jack, really me this time. Ignore all that stuff. It’s just flim flam. Doctor, find me.”

The Doctor was in the dark again. There were no voices now, no monsters, nothing, just a cold, lonely darkness. It was almost as bad as being surrounded by nameless horrors. The silence was oppressive, closing in on him on all sides.

Then he heard a voice in the darkness, a voice that called his name, but wasn’t accusing, wasn’t blaming him for anything.

“Jack?” He recognised the voice straight away. “Jack? Where are you? What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to get you,” he answered. The voice was closer now. Then a hand grasped his, firmly and decisively. “Doctor, thank God I found you.”

“You shouldn’t have come,” he said. “You don’t belong here. This is….”

“This is your big test, I know,” Jack answered, still clinging to his hand in the dark. “But if you haven’t passed by now, I don’t know what more you’re expected to do. Let’s get out of here.”

Jack’s hand tightened and The Doctor felt very glad that he was there. His body was tingling in an unpleasant way as if he was dissolving into the very air around him and the pressure of that Human hand on his proved that he still existed in a real way.

Then the blackness completely enveloped him and his ability to feel that hand touching his failed along with his other senses.

When he woke again, he was in the bright room beside the shimmering pool. Jack was there, but The Guardian was gone.

“He said to wish you luck,” Jack said. “And to say that you passed every test… including the test of loyalty. Not your loyalty… my loyalty to you. Apparently the fact that I was prepared to risk all to reach you proved something about YOUR character that was an important bonus point to the Guardian.”

“That people will sacrifice themselves for me,” The Doctor said bitterly. “Yes, I’ve heard that before. It’s not a good thing. I don’t want people to do that.”

“Not while you can die for them,” Jack suggested. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Doctor. It’s not a character flaw. People love you… even people who barely know you. That’s a good thing. By the way – you got what you wanted. Looking pretty good, though I’m not sure about the hair.”

The Doctor reached out his hands and looked at them. He recognised the long, flexible fingers. He touched his face and that felt familiar, too. He leaned forward and looked into the pool. It reflected the face, the body, he had hoped to see, the one he had gone through all of that to get back.

“He kept his end of the deal,” Jack added. “To tell the truth, I really thought he wouldn’t. I thought all this was just going to turn into some double-dealing trick. But he was the real thing. He kept an eye on you while it was happening, then he gave me a couple of messages for you and left.”

“What were the messages?” The Doctor asked, stretching his newly restored body and trying the long limbs and flexible face for size. “Apart from good luck, and all that.”

“He gave me these things – said you would want to take some of them back where they came from.”

Jack held out a tray containing the assorted souvenirs he had collected in the course of his labours. The backgammon piece belonging to Princess Pet, the Seal of Krontep, the Great Key of Rassilon….

“Yes, they should go back,” he agreed. “Most of them. The tree cutting… I’ve picked a nice place in the Cloister Room for that, and the Blackpool Tower model is just a bit of seaside tat. I don’t think I’m going to sweat over taking the Trilogic Game back to the Toymaster, either. But Princess Pet should get her playing piece back, and the Seal was only loaned to me. So was the Coronet, and Liz’s mask.”

“We have to retrace your steps a bit,” Jack suggested.

“I have to. I can drop you off anywhere you want,” The Doctor assured him. “Unless… you’d like… to come with… me for a bit. I was going to meet Lucie in Blackpool, first. I promised to come and see her again. We’ll do lunch… if you promise to behave and not try to flirt with her… at least not too much. And the Queen Mother of Krontep is a recent widow. Behave yourself with her, please.”

“Scouts honour,” Jack replied with a gesture that clearly suggested he had never been any kind of scout. The Doctor smiled, despite himself. He knew winning back this life was only a temporary respite. The Eleventh Doctor’s last battle was coming, sooner rather than later, but at the proper time, the one ordained by fate.

And meanwhile he had an old friend to make the TARDIS less lonely and some even older friends to revisit, perhaps some adventures to get into if that got too dull.

And when he had dropped Jack off back into the life he had left to help him out, there were still Wednesday afternoons with Clara.

He still had plenty to do with this body, and he meant to do it all.