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

“Here, put this on,” The Doctor said to Jean, handing her something that looked like a combat vest that somebody had decided to colour bright yellow instead of the more usual khaki. He was already wearing an identical accessory over his shirt and was trying to fit his usual tweed jacket over it. The result was a very bulky Doctor who looked as if he had gained a lot of weight around the shoulders and chest.

Jean put her vest on and decided it did nothing for her, either.

“Why?” she simply asked.

“It’s something I’ve been tinkering with in my spare time,” The Doctor answered.

“You have spare time?” Jean wondered aloud.

“Occasionally, yes. Anyway, the point is, I made these….”

“Doctor, these are not going to set Paris Fashion Week alight. You really don’t have a future in couture.”

“They’re a combination of perception filter and shimmer cloak,” he continued, ignoring her comments. “I call it the perception vest. Press the panel below your left shoulder like this.”

She copied him. Nothing seemed to have happened to her, but he vanished.

“Where are you?”

“Right here in front of you, assuming you haven’t moved. Concentrate. You know I’m here so you should be able to see me.”

She concentrated, and The Doctor faded back into view as if he was one of those pictures made of dots that you had to look at cross-eyed to see the rabbit or the Taj Mahal or whatever.

Jean dismissed rabbits and Indian landmarks from her mind and wondered if The Doctor’s rambling nonsense was contagious.

“Now press this one, and think of… I don’t know… a Silurian or a mountain gorilla or….”

Jean had no idea what a Silurian looked like, so she thought of a mountain gorilla, then shrieked as The Doctor turned into something with a reptilian face and a penchant for chain mail while she reached out an arm and discovered it was covered in long black fur.

“Press it again and think of yourself,” The Doctor added as he turned back into The Doctor again. She did and was relieved to see her own arm again.

“It works perfectly,” he said with a triumphant grin. “Of course, I knew it would. I am a genius, after all. But I was working with two different kinds of technology. The shimmer cloak is Vinvochi and the perception filter….”

Jean waited for him to stop talking, then got tired of waiting and interrupted him.

“Again, I ask – Why?”

“I want to check up on an old friend, but without him knowing about it. Besides, it would be a good chance to give these a really good field test.”

Jean thought about that for a moment.

“Ok, I can live with that idea. A bit of espionage. Just as long as I can be in disguise all the time. I don’t want to be seen on any planet wearing a fluorescent yellow flack vest.”

The Doctor grinned and moved around the console to initiate a materialisation. Jean wondered whether she ought to be pleased or disappointed that they were heading for Earth.

“Colchester,” The Doctor said as he stepped out of the TARDIS onto a busy shopping street that was almost indistinguishable from any other street in Britain. “The oldest recorded town in Britain, originally settled by the Celts, established as a fortress town by the Romans, who called it Camulodunum, gaining importance as a centre for trade in the twelfth century when King Richard I – very nice man, remind me to introduce you some time – gave the town its Charter.”

“Did you memorise the WHOLE of Wikipedia?” Jean asked dryly. She looked around for the answer to the second question she wanted to ask after ‘where are we’, determined to find out for herself. Her eye was drawn to the front window of WH Smiths. It looked much like any Smiths she had ever seen except that one section of the glass acted like a flat screen computer monitor. It was displaying what looked like the front page of a newspaper – the Guardian had been selected by the last user - but it was touch screen interactive.

The technology told her she was ahead of her own time where newspapers were printed on paper and sold inside Smiths. The date on the interactive paper told her how far ahead she was.

“June, 2028,” she noted. “That would make me thirty-nine. So I’m still around somewhere. I suppose it’s risky for me to meet my older self. But that’s not likely. I have NEVER set foot in Colchester in my life before and there’s no reason why I would be here today. What about this friend of yours?”

“He’s coming along now. Put your perception filter on.”

Jean did as he said. She could still vaguely see him, but only because she knew he was there. The funny thing was that, even though they were invisible, people still side-stepped them. One man hurrying by in his own personal world even murmured an apology for getting in her way.

“Perception filter, not invisibility cloak,” The Doctor explained. “It’s not so much that we’re invisible as unnoticeable. Like homeless people or a plain girl at a party.”

“Er… ok.” Jean accepted that she wasn’t going to get any better explanation than that, especially since The Doctor had turned his attention to a group of teenagers who had halted outside Smiths. Jeans and trainers were still in style in 2028, she noted. But instead of hoodies, the youth of Britain had adopted the cloth cap as a fashion statement or mark of rebellion or whatever they thought it was.

One of the boys stood out from the others no matter what he wore to try to fit in. While the others were tall and gangling he was short, stocky and round faced.

“Ok, lard-boy,” one of the others said. “This place will do. Get in there.”

The boy looked at his friend and his shoulders drooped. He obviously didn’t want to do whatever it was. The other boys lounged against the shop window as he headed in through the automatic doors.

None of them paid any attention when the doors opened a second time, apparently with nobody there.

“What’s he up to?” Jean asked as they followed the boy around the store.

“Shoplifting,” The Doctor answered.


“He’s not really a thief,” The Doctor continued. “He’s just trying to fit in. The others have told him to steal something to prove he can join their gang.”

“Oh, good grief,” Jean sighed. “Kids used to do that when I was a teenager. Haven’t they got any more sense in the future?”

“Sadly, no. And these days there are no cautions and let offs for first offences. Anyone under eighteen caught shoplifting gets a year in youth detention and a permanent criminal record.”

Jean thought about the gang culture of her own decade and how many people called for harsher punishments for the ‘yobs’. Obviously they had got it right now.

Even so, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for the round-faced boy who was committing a crime for all of the wrong reasons. She didn’t need The Doctor’s knowledge of the future to know that he was going to get caught. He was too clumsy in his movements, too furtively looking around the shop, too nervous. The shop security guards were going to spot him right away.

“So he’s about to ruin his entire future just to impress somebody who calls him ‘lard-boy’?”

“Not if I can help it,” The Doctor answered. He watched as the boy picked up a packet of Blu-Tac and slid it into his jacket pocket. The other boys, those who regularly stole things from shops, would walk around a little more, go up the escalator to the book department, let the guards lose track of him. But this one started to move towards the door. He wasn’t even casual about it. He was almost trotting. A guard was already moving along the chocolate aisle to head him off.

The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the boy’s pocket. The seam at the bottom came undone. The stolen goods slid out and dropped on the floor. The boy didn’t notice. Nor did he notice The Doctor kicking the packet of Blu-Tac under the pick and mix stand.

The guard stopped the boy a pace away from the door and told him to turn out his pockets. Glumly he did as he was told. When his hand went straight through his bottomless pocket he managed not to look too surprised. The guard waited until he had turned out all of his pockets before finally accepted that he wasn’t carrying anything he hadn’t paid for and let him go.

Jean noticed that The Doctor was no longer invisible. He had taken on the appearance of an elderly man, complete with walking stick. She touched the shoulder of her vest and pictured her own grandmother in her mind, then grasped The Doctor’s arm. Inside, she felt like she was twenty-two, but outside, she was frail and old and was glad to hold onto him.

They stepped outside in time to see the leader of the youth gang elbow the round-faced boy in the ribs and call him several things even nastier than ‘lard-boy’ before stalking away.

“What are you boggling at, granddad?” one of the boys said to The Doctor before deliberately bumping into Jean despite having plenty of room to go past her. She thought of a dozen sharp things she could say back to the boy, but all a fraction too late. The gang had dashed across the road and into a shopping arcade.

The one they had left behind was clutching his ribs and blinking back tears.

“Are you all right, Alfie?” The Doctor asked him.

“I’m… ok,” he replied a fraction of a second before he realised a stranger had called him by his name. “Who are you? How do you know… are you a friend of my dad’s?”

“I’m a VERY old friend of your dad’s, in fact. But right now I think it’s you who needs a friend - a better one than that little lot you were with.”

Alfie began to protest that the gang were ‘all right’, but then shook his head.

“I just wanted to….”

“I know what you wanted to do,” The Doctor told him. “I’ve been an outsider for longer than you c ould begin to imagine. I know what you’re feeling. Come on. I think you need a cuppa.”

There was no reason why the boy should have come with them. He really didn’t know them, certainly not looking the way they did. All the same, he did come. He probably expected that they were going to a café for the ‘cuppa’. He was suitably surprised when The Doctor unlocked the door of the old fashioned blue box standing on the pavement and invited him in.

“I can’t fit in there with you,” he protested. “I’m… FAT.”

“It’s ok,” Jean told him gently and, she hoped, reassuringly. Alfie looked at her and then stepped over the TARDIS threshold. She heard his exclamation before she followed him and closed the door.

“Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!” he cried out, clinging to the gangway railing and staring around at the colourful, exciting, mysterious interior of the TARDIS. “Oh my God, it’s real. It’s… the… the…. My dad told me stories when I was a kid. I thought he was making them up… stories about a space ship and… and… and….”

The Doctor pressed the shoulder of the yellow vest and returned to his normal shape. Well, nearly normal. He slipped off his tweed jacket and the yellow monstrosity.

“Tea,” he said and disappeared off into the maze of corridors leading to, among other things, a kitchen. Alfie took a few more steps into the console room proper, still staring around.

“Take a seat,” Jean suggested as she, too, took off the perception vest and resumed her normal appearance. Alfie sat. His eyes were wide and rounder than ever in his round face. Jean looked him over critically. Yes, he was overweight, and clearly that was still as big a handicap to a teenager in this time as it had ever been. He took off the cloth cap to reveal a mop of curly hair that no comb could ever tame. When he got over the shock of being inside the TARDIS she thought his face would be quite pleasant.

She introduced herself to him. He told her his name was Alfie Owens.

“And your dad is….”

“Craig Owens. He’s the boss of Owens Estate Agents, on Addison Street. He wants me to do business management at college and join him in the firm.”

“Well, you really shouldn’t have gone in for shop-lifting,” Jean told him. “Or that plan would have been ruined. Was it worth it to get into a gang of yobs like those? They don’t even LIKE you.”

“If you’re not mates with Keith Southerns, your life isn’t worth living,” he answered. Then he shook his head. “He’s a ratbag. I hate him. He’s been kicking me around the playground ever since Year One. But….”

“You’re what… sixteen, seventeen? School’s over. Put it behind you. Do what your dad wants or… whatever YOU would like to do if it doesn’t disappoint him too much. But don’t do what a loser like Keith Southerns wants. Think of the trouble you would have been in if The Doctor hadn’t helped you out back there in the shop?”

“Helped me?” Alfie looked at the hem of his jacket pocket. The stitches were all very carefully melted without damaging the fabric itself. He put two and two together very quickly. “He… did that for me?”

“I did it for your mum and dad,” The Doctor answered, putting a tray of tea and biscuits down on a stool and inviting him to help himself. Alfie put three spoons of sugar in his tea and took three chocolate digestives.

“I don’t have a mum,” he said.

“Of course you do,” The Doctor answered. “Sophie. Lovely lady. I had a bit of a hand in her and your dad getting together….”

“She disappeared when I was two years old,” Alfie answered.

“No she didn’t,” The Doctor responded. “She gave up her ambition to travel to be with your dad. But once you went to nursery school she did a part time course and then got a job at Colchester Zoo, looking after the Lemurs. She….”

He stopped talking. He glanced at Alfie, who was looking puzzled.

“I mean… that’s how her life should have been,” he said. “The last time I saw her, I read her timeline. It’s something we can do, Time Lords. I wanted to make sure you would all be fine without me, and you were….”

“Doctor….” Jean gave him a sharp look. He stopped talking again – for a half a minute, at least.

“Something is wrong,” he said when he resumed. “Something has gone wrong with the timeline. It shouldn’t be like that. Alfie… can I… read your mind?”

“I don’t know. Can you?”

Alfie stuffed the last of the biscuit in his mouth while The Doctor grasped him either side of his face and pushed his own forehead against his. Alfie tried to say something but the biscuit crumbs got in the way.

The Doctor leaned back, biting his lip in puzzled contemplation.

Alfie had only been two years old when his mother disappeared. He wasn’t asked for his eye-witness account. But it was all there. He had been sitting in his baby chair eating beans on toast – messily. His dad was sitting next to him with a mug of coffee, dressed in slacks and a sweatshirt that was splattered with Alfie’s beans.

Sophie came into the kitchen dressed in autumn gold cashmere with matching shoes and handbag. Craig had smiled happily to see her.

“Enjoy the play, love,” he had said. “What was it again… anti-gone.”

“Antigone,” she had answered. “It’s… a Greek tragedy. Not really your scene. You don’t mind me going, do you?”

“Course not,” Craig had assured her. “You have a good time. Me and Alfie are going to watch the footy. Beer for me, milky-cocoa for him… or maybe the other way around.”

Sophie leaned in to kiss her husband and baby, avoiding the mess on both of their clothes then she left. Craig watched her go then turned back to Alfie.

“Your Mum’s gone to see Anty Gone,” he said. “Mummy’s gone to anty-gone.” Alfie laughed even though he didn’t get the joke.

Around midnight, when she wasn’t back, the joke seemed less funny. Over the next few days, especially after forty-eight hours when she was officially considered missing, it turned very sour for them both. The police investigated for a while. Craig made an appeal on local television. But the trail was cold. Even the people who thought she was under the patio got bored with saying so after a while. Most people thought she had just got fed up of having a husband and baby to look after and gone off to better things.

Craig did the best he could to look after Alfie and run a business at the same time. He succeeded, more or less. After a year or two he dated occasionally, but mostly it was just him and his son.

“It’s wrong,” The Doctor insisted. “It shouldn’t have been like that. Alfie, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. Somehow your life, and your dad’s life, and your mum’s… have all gone wrong.”

Alfie didn’t need telling that. He knew only too well that there was a mum-shaped gap in his childhood.

“Where was that theatre?” The Doctor asked. But Jean was already looking up the case on the TARDIS database.

The last sight of Sophie Owens was outside the Colchester Mercury Theatre on June 28th 2012 where she had waited for her friend Melina who had the tickets for Sophocles’ Antigone.

“Alfie, put this on,” The Doctor said, handing him Jean’s perception vest. He put his own one back on.

“Why?” Jean asked, noting that the yellow jacket had fitted snugly on her slim frame, and yet also seemed to fit Alfie perfectly well.

“The TARDIS is parked near the theatre half an hour before Sophie turns up. She knows me, and she would recognise Alfie, too. He’s the dead spit of his dad when they were both teenagers. She doesn’t know you. We can keep an eye on things without scaring her.”

The Doctor pressed the shoulder of his jacket and took on the appearance of a middle aged man who might be called ruggedly handsome by the writers of Mills and Boon novels. He was wearing a battered leather jacket and black jeans with a v-necked jumper. Jean thought he was, at the same time, utterly non-descript and utterly distinctive.

Alfie tried several different looks before deciding to be a thinner version of himself - not stick thin like Keith Southerns, he was still broad-shouldered like his dad - but a leaner, fitter version of himself. The Doctor nodded in approval and opened the TARDIS door.

It was a warm evening, getting on for half past seven, one of the rare sunny days of a summer noted for its record rainfall. The area of Colchester known as Balkerne Gardens for reasons that local historians wrote pages about on the internet was an interesting mixture of modern garden-fronted houses, an ultra-modern theatre and arts centre, a nineteenth century red brick Water Tower that imposed over everything, an eighteenth century pub and the remnant of a Roman gatehouse. The Doctor refrained from telling anyone that the two gaps in the ancient piece of wall were the largest intact Roman arches in Britain and led his party to the umbrella-shaded seats outside the pub that had been named ‘The Hole in The Wall’ because it occupied the gap where the actual gate would have been in Roman times. The pub wasn’t open yet, but nobody complained about them sitting down to wait.

“There IS something funny going on around here,” he said examining his sonic screwdriver critically. “I think there’s a random temporal anomaly in the vicinity.”

“A what?” Jean challenged him.

The Doctor got ready to explain himself but Alfie jolted in his seat and gave a deep sigh. Sophie Owens had just turned the corner into the Gardens. Jean put a gentle and reassuring hand over his as his mum sat on a public bench near the entrance to the Theatre and looked at her watch.

“She’s going to the theatre,” The Doctor murmured. “Why would she try to go that way? There’s no reason.”

“Go where?” Jean asked. “Doctor what are you talking about?”

“The random temporal anomaly is centred on the Roman gate. If she goes through there, it will pull her out of this time and dump her… anywhere. But why would she go through the Gate? She’s where she’s supposed to be already.”

Sophie didn’t look as if she planned to go anywhere, yet. She was happily sitting in the sunshine, knowing that her friend would be there any minute.

Then somebody else came, instead, an elderly woman who walked with a stick. She slowly but determinedly made her way along the street and stopped next to Sophie. She said something that clearly startled Sophie. She jumped up from the seat and backed away fearfully. The woman edged closer. Sophie moved away a little further, tears pricking her eyes as she begged the woman to leave her alone. Then she broke into a run, straight towards the Balkerne Gate.

“Mum, no!” Alfie cried out. He leapt from the bench and ran to try to head her off. But his slim, athletic body was only an illusion. The lumpy, slightly clumsy Alfie lay beneath and he stumbled. Sophie reached the Gate as he was picking himself up from the floor, nursing bruised elbows. “Mum!” he cried out in anguish.

“Alfie?” The old woman came closer and spoke his name. “Oh my God, is it really you? But this is 2012. You’re still….”

The woman turned to look at the gate. The Doctor was examining it carefully with his sonic screwdriver, tapping at the ancient stones and shaking his head mournfully.

There was, of course, no sign of Sophie. She had disappeared just as the police report said, from Balkerne Gardens on a sunny June night.

“It’s HIM, isn’t it,” she said. “The Doctor.”

“Yes, it is,” Jean answered. She came to Alfie’s side and looked at the stranger who had been the catalyst for all that had happened. She understood most of what had happened straight away. “Doctor, it’s too late. You might as well leave that alone now.”

“I’m sorry,” he said as he came to join the odd group of people. “The temporal anomaly dissipated as soon as it took hold of Sophie. She’s trapped somewhere in time. She might be in Roman days, or earlier when the Celts first built a town here, or in the time of Queen Mary where heretics were being burnt at the stake in the town square. Or….”

“Or maybe about sixty years ago,” Jean suggested. “Doctor, I don’t quite get everything, but THIS is Sophie Owens, and I think she needs to sit down and maybe have a cold drink. I know I could use one. And Alfie looks ready to fall down, too.”

She took the old woman by the arm and led her gently to the seat outside the pub. Alfie sat down, too. He was biting back tears of grief and blaming himself for not stopping his mum from stepping into the trap. Jean was looking after them both. The Doctor was superfluous for the moment. He went inside the just opened pub and bought four glasses of cola.

When he emerged with the tray, Alfie and the old woman were hugging. Both were crying unashamedly.

“She IS Sophie,” Jean explained to him. “She came for the same reason – to stop this happening. Only instead of watching she tried the direct approach. She tried to tell Sophie… the younger version… not to go into the trap under the Gate. Only Sophie got frightened and ran right where none of us wanted her to go.”

“Self-fulfilling paradox,” The Doctor commented. “Sophie was caught in the temporal trap, thrown back to….” He did a quick calculation based on Jean’s guess. “The 1950s, was it?” Older Sophie nodded. “So she came back to the scene after all those years to tell herself not to go there and break the cycle. But it just perpetuated it.”

“What made Sophie run into the trap in the first place, then?” Jean asked.

“The first time,” Older Sophie explained. “I was sitting there, outside the theatre, and I heard something… it sounded like somebody crying. I thought somebody was hurt. I went to help. Under the Gate, there was nobody there. But I remember thinking there was a sort of shadow on the wall… it looked sort of… Human. But the next moment I was in the dark. It was night time, and when I came out of the Gate everything was different. The theatre wasn’t there. There was no dual carriageway down below. The only thing I recognised was the pub because that’s been there for ages, and the Water Tower because that’s old, too. I walked home, but our house wasn’t there. So I went to a police station. That’s when I found out that it was 1951.”

“Before the Coronation,” The Doctor remarked with just a little too much enthusiasm. Jean shot him a look. “Sorry, Sophie. Tell me, what did you do?”

“The police didn’t know what to make of me. I had a driving licence in my handbag giving my date of birth as 1985. I had a credit card and money with pictures of the queen on, and colour photographs of Craig and Alfie.” She fumbled in the handbag she carried now and pulled out faded, creased pictures of her husband and baby. “I kept them all these years.”

“Mum, I’m sorry,” Alfie said again. “I tried to reach you. I AM sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, love,” she promised him. “It was mine. I should have known I couldn’t do what I tried to do. I’ve seen enough films about time travel and whatever. People aren’t supposed to meet themselves.”

The Doctor was on the point of explaining that it was called the Blinovitch Uncertainty Principle, but Jean gave him a stern look. He kept the information to himself.

“Somehow the younger me knew it was all wrong. Maybe it’s something psychic or… I don’t know… but I frightened her so much, she did exactly what I meant to stop her doing. I’m sorry. I got it wrong.”

“No,” The Doctor said. He pressed his shoulder and resumed his usual appearance. “It’s mine. Instead of disguises and observation I should have gone to her. I could have warned her without scaring her. I could have sat with her until her friend came and took her into the theatre and then gone and dealt with the anomaly. I was curious. I wanted to see what happened. But instead I helped perpetuate a permanent serial-parallel paradox.”

“Thank goodness we’re on cola,” Jean pointed out. “I wouldn’t want to hear you say that after a couple of beers. But what you’re saying is that Sophie is going to keep on going around in circles, scaring herself into the trap, leaving Alfie and his dad never knowing what happened to her.”

“No, The Doctor decided. “That’s not going to happen. Because I CAN stop it. I told Alfie it wasn’t meant to be this way. He WAS meant to grow up with a mum and dad. Which means this isn’t a fixed point and I am SUPPOSED to do something.”

“But what can you do?” Jean asked. “We tried, and it’s obvious we can’t do anything here. The paradox is centred on this time. We can’t change it.”

“Not here, not now,” The Doctor said. “But Sophie, tell me exactly when you arrived in 1951.”

“August 21st, at about ten to three in the morning,” she answered. “It must have been about that time. When I was walking past the church up that way its clock chimed three.”

“There we are, then. We can find you in 1951. But Sophie… you do realise….” He paused and remembered once before when he had encountered this same sort of paradox. “If I stop it happening, if you don’t get stranded in 1951, this version of your life, the one you’ve lived since then… it will cease to exist. You won’t have happened.”

“I thought of that,” Sophie answered. “I thought about it over and over again for sixty-one years. I’m eighty-eight years old. I’ve lived a whole life. I was all right. The police called an organisation called Torchwood. Apparently they deal with that kind of thing all the time. They helped get me a new identity. I got a job as a librarian. I lived all right. And yes, I saw the Coronation, and the Beatles first number one, men walking on the moon, the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher… all of it. And none of it made up for losing my husband and baby. So, Doctor, get it right, please. Get me back where I belong, with them.”

“I promise,” The Doctor said solemnly. “Jean, you stay with her. She shouldn’t be on her own. Alfie, you come with me.”

Jean felt a little disappointed about not being involved in this part of The Doctor’s plan. But he was right, Sophie shouldn’t be alone right now.

She felt a moment of panic in case The Doctor didn’t come back. But after all, she was in her own time, 2012. If the worst happened, she could get a train home to Scotland – and give The Doctor hell when he turned up to apologise.

“We’ll be all right,” she told him. “Go on, Alfie, go find your mum.”

Alfie nodded and turned to the older Sophie.

“Mum, I want you to know….”

He paused. He was a seventeen year old boy. He was British. The sort of things seventeen year olds said in moments like this in Hollywood films didn’t come easily to him.

“I know, Alfie,” Sophie told him. “You’re…. you’re exactly how I hoped you’d grow up. Your dad did a good job. I’m proud of you both. And… I love you.”

It was easier for a mum to say those things, of course. Alfie let her kiss him on the cheek before he turned and followed The Doctor back to the TARDIS, parked near the huge water tower wryly called ‘Jumbo’ by the rector of the parish who saw it being built much higher than his own church tower and took an instant dislike to it. A moment later the even more incongruous blue box vanished.

Jean sat with Sophie, listening to her talk about the quiet life she had lived, determined to defy the odds and reach her eighties, reach the time when her son was born, the time when she, as a young woman, took a night off from parenthood to see a play called Antigone at the Mercury Theatre.

“I used to hide copies of the play in the library,” she said. “I felt as if I didn’t want to be reminded about it. It’s not even a very nice story. There’s a stubborn king and a girl who defies him and dies in the end because he won’t give in on his own principles even to save her. It’s… tragic. Well, it would be. It’s a Greek tragedy, of course.”

“The Doctor took me to Greece,” Jean said. It wasn’t a very good response to what Sophie was saying, but she really couldn’t think of anything else.

Sophie didn’t reply. Jean looked at the empty place where she had been sitting and picked up the faded photographs of Craig and Alfie. She held onto them and sat quietly until she heard the faint sound of the TARDIS materialising by the Water Tower again. She watched The Doctor, Alfie and young Sophie dressed in her cashmere dress come down the street again. A woman in a blue dress stepped out of the Mercury Theatre foyer and met them. That must have been Melina, the friend she was supposed to be meeting. Sophie hugged Alfie and said goodbye to The Doctor, and went off to watch Sophocles’ Antigone, a Greek Tragedy.

Alfie and The Doctor came and sat at the table outside The Hole in The Wall and calmly finished their drinks.

“We found her outside the church just as the clock chimed three,” The Doctor explained. “She recognised me, of course, and knew she would be safe. We brought her right back here where she belongs. She’ll be just fine, now.”

“Yes,” Alfie confirmed. “I can feel it. All my memories are changing. Doctor, I remember mum being with us all my life. She did all the things you said, working at the zoo. And she was a great mum, too, looking after me, looking after my dad. We were fine.” He glanced towards the theatre. “She takes me to the theatre. I’ve seen that one. Antigone. It’s a sad story. I’ve seen loads of stuff with her. And football with dad. I’m… a bit of both of them… like I should be, I suppose. And I don’t need to impress idiots like Keith Southerns.”

“Doesn’t that make it another paradox, then?” Jean asked. “If Alfie wasn’t out shoplifting to prove himself to the yob gang, does that mean we won’t have met him?”

“Causality can handle that much of a twist,” The Doctor answered. “The temporal trap is gone now. It was completely random. It might have grabbed anyone at all. It’s a remnant of one of the Lonely Assassins. It must have attached itself to the Gate because it’s such old, old rock. Some of the rock of Colchester’s Roman walls has fossils in it, you know. It’s so very old. Just what the Assassins like. Stealing Sophie away gave it enough life force to escape. It will turn up again somewhere, sooner or later, but it’s gone from here, at least. So… when you’re ready, we’ll drop Alfie off home in 2028 and be on our way.”

“Come and see mum and dad,” Alfie said. “They’ll love to see you again after all these years.”

“I might just do that,” The Doctor agreed. He drained his glass and found the key to the TARDIS in his pocket. The three of them walked back to the blue box by the water tower. A few minutes later it dematerialised once again.

A few minutes later again the TARDIS re-materialised a half hour’s walk from Balkerne Gardens and fifteen years later.

“Wait a minute,” Jean said to Alfie. “You’re still wearing the perception filter jacket. You’re still the thin version of you.”

“No, I’m not,” he answered her. “It’s over there on the coatstand.” He grinned widely. “This IS me. Mum… is a way better cook than dad. Less chips, more healthy meals. And I play football as well as watching it. I’m… how I always wished I was. Doctor, thanks.”

The Doctor grinned widely and grabbed his coat. This was going to be a very interesting reunion with his old friends.