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

Marie stepped into the console room and twirled theatrically in a coral satin evening gown dripping with what she was quite certain were real diamonds. The Doctor, working at something under the drive control panel, didn’t even notice.

She twirled again accompanied by a loud throat clearing.

“Very nice, Romana,” he commented after looking up briefly.


The Doctor looked up again and grinned toothily.

“Marie, yes, that suits you.”

“Nice try. You almost sounded sincere. But who is this Romana?”

“A friend who travelled with me a long time ago.”

“A good friend?”

“You’re all good friends.” The Doctor stood up and smiled even more widely. “Romana was different because she was… one of my own kind. A Time Lord.”

“Time Lord?” Marie queried. “Not Time Lady?”

The smile softened into something that might have been sentiment on a less time-worn face.

“Romana WAS a lady in every sense of the word,” he admitted. “But Time Lord is the only title we ever had.”

“Does that mean that your society was so into gender equality that it didn’t need to differentiate between men and women or it was so misogynistic it didn’t bother to have a term for a female in the ranks?”

“A bit of both, I think, as illogical as that is,” The Doctor admitted. “What can I say. They’re my people.”

“Well, anyway, she had taste in clothes. There’s a whole rack of outfits down there in the Wardrobe. There was a purple riding habit, like something out of Poldark or something. I can’t imagine any circumstances I could wear that for, but it looked good. As for this dress….”

“Yes, Romana wore that to the Ambassador’s Ball,” The Doctor confirmed.

“Were there pyramids of gold covered chocolates?”

“No, just a political assassination and fingers pointed in the wrong direction.”

“Pointed to you,” Marie said, surprising herself as well as The Doctor. “Oh....”

“What made you say that?”

“I don’t know. I just suddenly knew. I saw you being arrested. Except it wasn’t you. It was a different man... But it WAS you. I knew it was you. Romana knew you with that face.”

“Eight regenerations ago. I had far more hair, but the teeth were terrible.”

“How do I know that face?” Marie asked. She wasn’t worried in any way. If anything she was curious to know why she had acquired somebody else’s memory.

“It's the dress,” The Doctor told her. “It’s Gallifreyan make for a start, worn by a lady Time Lord, then hung in the TARDIS wardrobe for the best part of five hundred years. It’s stored up some psychic resonances. Interesting. Very interesting, indeed.”

“You’re telling me that the dress remembers being worn?”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“Wow... that’s.... Wow.... That’s really... amazing.”

“You’re not scared, freaked out, anything like that, “

“No. It’s... really interesting. Romana... she really looked up to you. She thought you were a great Time Lord.”

“She thought I was a clown and a fool, wasting my talents and the opportunity to travel time and space on trivial whims. “

“No. She told you that. But in her mind, she really admired you.”

The Doctor was visibly shocked, both by the revelation about his old friend and the source of the revelation.

“You sensed THAT much?”

“Yes. Though it was only fleeting - as if she didn’t allow that sort of thought into her head very often. I have a VERY vivid memory of the Ambassador’s Ball and everything that happened there.”

“Can you tell me about it?” The Doctor asked. “Let’s experiment... Find out how vivid the psychic recollection is.”

“Yes, why not,” Marie agreed.

“Tell you what, seeing as you’re dressed for it, let's eat out.”

That was a good idea in principle. In practice, it went a bit wrong. The TARDIS parked itself at Forton Service Station on the M6 at a little after four-thirty in the morning. Marie tried not to feel self-conscious in a satin evening gown eating a full English breakfast in company with four lorry drivers and a dozen festival goers heading to Glastonbury.

The Doctor didn’t see anything incongruous at all about the situation, but then he regularly parked his English police phone box in Dublin and never saw the historical faux pas in that.

It didn’t matter where they were, of course. The experiment would still work. Marie drank tea from a big white mug and let her mind drift from the transport café to a warm evening under a deep green sky with four moons. She had alighted from a hover limousine in front of a mansion in the Palladian style. Guests of all sorts were arriving. And ‘all sorts’ meant people with scales and feathers, people with wings, people who hardly looked like ‘people’ at all.

The Doctor, the one with an even more predatory smile than the one Marie knew, was in evening dress. Romana had been both surprised and impressed by his effort to wear something appropriate to the occasion rather than his usual Bohemian rag bag. Marie giggled as she recalled the phrase her predecessor privately reserved for The Doctor’s clothing and agreed with her thoughts about his mop of unruly hair.

“A comb and a pot of Brylcream,” Marie thought. “That’s what my granddad would have suggested.” But Romana’s Doctor left his hair freestyle even if he conformed in other ways, and she was pleased enough to step into the mansion at his side.

They passed under a huge flag hanging from the porch. It was the flag of Destra X, a planet in the Argo Nevis space sector. This was the Destrian embassy on Xanpei V, a planet in the neighbouring solar system. The Ball was to celebrate the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Marie was impressed by the way Romana so easily accepted such ideas. For her, the idea of planets in two different solar systems having diplomatic ties was a little mind blowing. Earth hadn’t even managed a decent picture of a planet in another solar system. The closest, orbiting the star called Proxima Centauri, was still just a speck on the radio telescopes.

She was also impressed by the way Romana rose to such an occasion. She perfectly performed the special bow and handshake when presented to the Ambassador. She knew the correct personal pronoun for the hermaphrodite couple from Debarra IX. She managed not to wince in pain when shaking hands with a seven foot tall, four foot wide man who looked like his skin was made of quick drying cement. At the formal dinner she knew which fork to use for the strange purple seafood starter.

Marie considered herself well brought up, educated, polite. But there were so many complicated rules of etiquette involved in an intergalactic diplomatic occasion she knew she would have been out of her depth. She could wear the dress, but she certainly couldn’t walk the walk or talk the talk.

Romana and The Doctor were at a table with the representatives from Arcitana, who had three eyes, the middle one just above the bridge of the nose, the Benussian Viceroy and his spouse with their ritual tattoos across his face and the back of her bald head and the Destrian Ambassador’s personal aide who not only looked ‘human’ in the sense Marie understood, but was also extremely handsome in the way a considerable percentage of the universe, regardless of gender would find attractive. Romana was seated beside him and found him easy to talk to. He introduced himself as LaSalle Brivic and told her about his world, a place of peace and culture. Romana told him about Gallifrey, where science was the highest pursuit. Their two worlds seemed to compliment each other.

After the dinner and some mandatory speech-making there was dancing. Marie easily forgot her mundane surroundings and enjoyed the second-hand pleasure of being in the arms of a good looking man in a gilded ballroom. The walls were lined with mirrors to rival Versailles and crystal chandeliers gleamed above. All around the wide room was a balcony with a golden balustrade and tall windows that let in the light of the three moons. At one end was a gallery big enough to contain a chamber orchestra which provided the music.

There were no other people up on the balcony. Marie felt Romana’s thought about that. On Gallifrey there would have been Chancellery Guards up there making sure everyone was safe.

Marie was quite sure that would be true at any embassy ball on Earth, too. Perhaps the Destrians were less paranoid than either humans or Gallifreyans.

In any case, Romana didn’t let the casual approach to security spoil her pleasure. The Doctor was the one the High Council had asked to represent Gallifrey. She was his ‘plus one’ in a thoroughly old fashioned and misogynistic way. She had no reason not to relax and enjoy herself.

She lost track of The Doctor altogether. She didn’t worry. He was old enough to look after himself.

Then the Destrian Ambassador was assassinated!

At first those on the edge of the floor, furthest from the scene, didn’t know what had happened. It was fully forty seconds before the music came to a ragged stop and the dancers turned to see what had happened. LaSalle gave a cry of horror and pushed onlookers aside to reach the dying man. Romana followed him for no obvious reason and saw first-hand that there was nothing to be done. He was shot though the heart with a crossbow bolt. His blood pooled stickily as LaSalle reached to close his eyes.

“Where did the shot come from?” Romana asked. LaSalle stood and looked up and around. She followed his gaze up to that balcony. To her utter horror she saw The Doctor looking down at her. Moments later Destrian Guards reached him. He didn’t bother to struggle.

“No!” Romana whispered. “Oh no. Not again.”

Marie was surprised by the thought that had flashed through Romana’s mind at that moment. She looked at The Doctor questioningly.

“You had been accused of shooting your own President a few years before then?”

“I was framed,” The Doctor replied. “And the real assassin was found. I was completely exonerated. Of course, Romana knew about it. She had followed my career in detail. Well… she read my file, anyway.”

There was a lot of noise and panic, of course. People were screaming and crying, not all of them recognisably female. Above the noise the Chief of Guards called for silence and got it after repeating himself three times.

“Everyone will stay in this room,” he said. “The assassin has been apprehended, but it is possible that he had an accomplice. In any case, you will all be required to make witness statements before you are permitted to leave.”

There were protests about that, but the chief was adamant. His men escorted the caterers and waiting staff as well as the orchestra into the ballroom and made them sit in a group.

“LaSalle, you have to get them to let me see The Doctor,” Romana insisted. “It can’t possibly have been him, and he might know who really did it. In any case, you mustn’t let them do anything to him… like torture or.…”

She broke off. There was no ‘or’. Torture was the most likely thing. If the Destrians believed The Doctor was a political assassin then they were likely to do anything to him.

LaSalle looked at her with disbelieving eyes.

“Why should I do any such thing?” he asked. “Your friend was found on the gallery – where the shot came from. He must be involved. For that matter how do I know that you’re not a part of it?”

“Because we’re Time Lords. We are honourable people and we do not indulge in political assassination.”

That wasn’t strictly true. That time when The Doctor had been accused of assassinating the Lord High President of Gallifrey was not so very long ago. Time Lords were as likely to produce Renegades and criminals as any other race. But Romana knew that incident had been hushed up. Nobody knew of it outside of Gallifrey. The reputation of the Time Lords was unsullied in the eyes of other races.

At least, she hoped it was. She watched LaSalle’s face for a long, agonising minute as he tried to decide what to do.

“I have no reason to believe that, either. Except… why would somebody of your race want to kill our Ambassador? It makes no sense. For that matter, we are a peaceful people. We have no enemies. It makes no sense that ANYONE would want to do this heinous thing.”

“Then… will you help me?”

Before leaving the ballroom to possibly go and torture The Doctor, the Chief Guard had ordered some of his men to carry the body of the Ambassador to a quieter and more dignified place. LaSalle used that as an excuse to pull rank. He insisted that he and his companion had to go with the body. The soldiers were as uncertain as anyone else about the situation but LaSalle spoke with a calm authority that swayed them. He grasped Romana’s hand before anyone could ask why she had to be with him and they followed the stretcher that the body had been placed upon.

The dead Ambassador was brought to a private prayer room where the Destrian deity was represented by an inverted equilateral triangle made of silver and onyx. Romana, though she desperately wanted to see The Doctor, waited patiently as LaSalle knelt before the symbol and said a prayer for the dead in the Destrian language. Only when those important respects were done would he do what she asked.

The Doctor had been taken to a room in the top floor of the Embassy building. There was a guard outside, but he snapped to attention in the presence of LaSalle and allowed him admittance.

“Doctor!” If she had made any pretence before of being a neutral observer of events, that evaporated when she saw The Doctor handcuffed to a chair, barely able to open his eyes for the bruises on his face or speak through split and puffed up lips. His dinner jacket had been wrenched off and was lying on the floor at his feet. His shirt was bloody from the beating he had suffered. Romana picked the jacket up as she turned to LaSalle accusingly.

“They didn’t have to do THAT to him.”

“Our Ambassador was murdered,” he reminded her.

“Even so, there are rules about the treatment of prisoners… especially prisoners INSIDE embassies. May I remind you that The Doctor IS here in a diplomatic capacity. Your people have gone too far.”

“You were beaten up, and they didn’t even know for sure it was you?” Marie was appalled. “It sounds like Belfast in the seventies.”

The Doctor grimaced.

“It was more complicated than it looks at that stage,” he said. “And considerably less like Belfast than you would think.”

Romana moved closer to The Doctor to examine his wounds. He murmured incoherently. She tried to talk to him telepathically, as she ought to have been able to do, Time Lord to Time Lord.

There was nothing. Just how hard had they hit him?

The door opened and the Chief Guard stepped inside. Romana rounded on him angrily, quoting intergalactic diplomatic rules and the Shaddow Proclamation's Convention on the Humane Treatment of Prisoners, pronouncing the capital letters crisply.

The Chief looked at his prisoner curiously.

“But I haven’t had chance to speak to the suspect, yet,” he protested. “I was making sure the perimeter was secure. My men were told to keep him locked up and under guard, no more.”

“Then you need to deal with your men,” Romana responded. “In the meantime, you had better get a medic to attend to him or I will see that all your Trade and Diplomatic ties with Gallifrey or her allies are severed immediately.”

“That was a good one,” The Doctor commented. “Gallifrey didn’t have any allies. It was always too superior to make friends.”

“Don’t interrupt just for snarky comments,” Marie told him sharply. “Romana was on to something. She’d nearly figured it out. Things aren’t what they seem in that room. She’s making the big fuss to distract everyone while she gets it all straight in her head.”

“Yes, she is.” The Doctor grinned widely. “Clever girl, that Romana.”

“Clever lady. And being patronising about her won’t win you any points with me.”

The Chief Guard was shaken by Romana’s sharp words. So was LaSalle.

“I think you need to account for yourself, and your men,” he decided. “The prisoner’s injuries….”

“I am not responsible for his injuries, and nor were my men,” the Chief insisted. “There hasn’t been TIME. It’s only been half an hour since he was arrested.”

LaSalle looked at The Doctor and frowned. Romana knew what he was thinking. How long did it take to beat a man’s face to a pulp? Not very long, to be sure.

But still, it didn’t seem quite right.

“Doctor, what were you doing up on the balcony, anyway?” Romana asked. “And what did you see?”

He mumbled again. Romana squinted in puzzlement. There was still no psychic connection. But there was something else – a jarring note that she was slowly beginning to pinpoint.

“Let me see if I can do something about those bruises,” she said, reaching into his jacket for the one object she knew she would find in whatever he chose to wear. She turned the sonic screwdriver to the mode that most aptly went with the name of ‘Doctor’ - tissue repair. She aimed it at his face, knowing that it should feel like a cooling balm as it reduced the swelling and repaired the cuts and abrasions.

Instead, The Doctor began to scream as if he was in acute agony and his face turned an alarming shade of puce before breaking out in reptilian scales. His body contorted, limbs lengthening, back curving, spines breaking through the ripping shirt.

“What the hell is that?” demanded the Chief of Guards as the transformation completed.

“Who the hell is THAT?” LaSalle asked as the door burst open and The Doctor rushed in, pursued by two guards. He was dressed in nothing but a pair of salmon pink longjohns. Romana looked away demurely just in time to see the changeling creature break the bonds that held it to the chair. It reared up ready to attack before the Chief raised his gun and shot it three times in quick succession. It fell back, dead and oozing black ichor.

“It is a Stygorian shape shifter,” The Doctor said, taking his dinner jacket from Romana’s unresisting hands and slipping it on over the undergarments, an action that did little to mitigate the absurdity of his appearance. “I spotted it just after dinner and followed it to the basement where it had been hiding out for several days disguised as a janitor. I found the body of that poor soul behind the boiler just before the shapeshifter turned the tables on me and knocked me out. It took my clothes and my identity as the perfect way to get past the guards and commit the assassination. That part of the plan went like clockwork, unfortunately. But his escape went awry.”

“He was captured.” LaSalle pointed out. “Obviously the guards thought he was you. But….”

“But why did he make himself look beaten up?” the Chief asked. “Because whether it was him or an imposter, my men didn’t do that. I’m perfectly certain of that much.”

“Oh!” Romana exclaimed. “I think I know. He guessed I would make a fuss… perhaps demand his release on diplomatic grounds, or even help him escape. It could have worked. I WAS thinking about a rescue attempt. Then I realised that something wasn’t right about him. That copy was perfect on the outside, but it didn’t have a Time Lord brain. I couldn’t make any telepathic contact at all. Plus, it was breathing through the ears. I don’t know if that was a slip up or if that is normal for its species, but that was the proof I needed. Once the sonic disrupted the morphic field the game was, as they say on The Doctor’s favourite planet, up.”

“Well done, Romana,” The Doctor congratulated her. “Clever girl.”

“A clever, and very charming lady,” LaSalle corrected him. “She cleared your name and reputation, sir, and unmasked the true assassin.”

“Good old Romana,” The Doctor remarked as he recalled the incident several regenerations and more years later than he cared to count.

“I doubt she’d appreciate the ‘old’,” Marie retorted dryly. “Did anyone find out WHY a Stegian Shapeshifter or whatever it was wanted to assassinate the Destrian Ambassador?”

“Stygorian,” The Doctor corrected her. “He did it because he was paid to do it. They are the hired guns of the Argo Nevis sector. But when the matter was fully investigated it turned out that the Ambassador wasn’t the intended victim. It was the man standing next to him, the Palladian Archmandarin. Palladia is notorious for its high stakes casinos. Crooked casinos where the decks were stacked as a matter of course. An intergalactic gangster had lost heavily trying to stack things the other way. He wanted revenge, pure and simple revenge. and paid the shape shifter to get it for him. The poor Ambassador was just unlucky.”

“I’ll say,” Romana commented.

“There was a state funeral for him and he was mourned by all. Romana’s friend LaSalle was given the Ambassadorship after a suitable interval. I believe he takes care to have guards on the gallery during official functions.”

“And… Romana… what happened to her? Is she… I suppose that Time War you talked about once… is she dead?”

“She’s alive and well and running her own empire in E-Space,” The Doctor answered. “And, yes, I do think fondly of her from time to time. So, I think, must the TARDIS since it kept her memory so fully ingrained in that dress.”

“You don’t think it might work with other clothes left by people you once travelled with, then?”

“Not so strongly,” The Doctor admitted. “Besides, it might not be a good idea. I know there’s a kilt belonging to a lad called Jamie in there. And a couple of garments worn by Captain Jack Harkness. And Heaven Forbid that you might start channelling River Song!”

“It can’t be more embarrassing than sitting in a transport café in an evening gown,” Marie reminded him. “I think you owe me dinner in a more glamorous location. But maybe in a dress with less memories than this one.”