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

Of all the Christmas dinners Amy had prepared, she thought this had been the best ever. The turkey was perfect, not too dry, not over or under-cooked. The vegetables were tender, the roast potatoes crisp, the stuffing tasty. The plum pudding came dark and rich and fresh from the steamer and lit up with a blue flame when the brandy was lit.

The company had been perfect. River came to see them, with tall stories about Christmas on a snow-covered wonderland world with The Doctor. Brian, Rory’s amiable father, joined them. Amy’s own parents and her aunt had gone to Scotland for a Highland Christmas and she was quietly glad of it. Four was just the right number of people for Christmas dinner.

Brian and River got on amazingly well. They had met briefly on a number of occasions, but this was the first time they had really had time to chat. It was a bit of a surprise to Brian to meet his grown up – very grown up – granddaughter, but he handled it with his usual down to earth logic.

“Do you need any help with the washing up, Amy?” Brian asked as she cleared the last remnants of the meal away.

“Nobody has to do the washing up,” she replied. “We have a dishwasher. Let’s take coffee to the drawing room and play a game. That’s what we always do at Christmas. A family board game.”

River made a face. She spelt the word ‘bo…red’ rather than board. She was a spy and a criminal, an intergalactic traveller, an assassin, an archaeologist, and her mother thought sitting around all afternoon shaking a dice and moving plastic figures around a board was fun.

But she was outvoted. Brian was an enthusiastic game player. Rory agreed as long as it wasn’t the Trivial Pursuit 2265 edition that nobody could play because the questions were all about things that hadn’t happened yet.

“What about the Verasnian version of Monopoly with space stations instead of railways,” Rory suggested.

“Best not,” Amy answered. “Remember what The Doctor said about it.”

Brian looked at his daughter in law quizzically.

“The money… is linked to the central bank of Verasnia. When anyone gets bankrupted in the game it causes a crash on their stock exchange and all sorts of problems.”

“Ah,” Brian nodded as if it all made perfect sense. He looked in the sideboard where the Pond-Williams family collection of board games were kept most of the year. Along with all the usual boxes there was Scrabble – with an alternative set of tiles using the Baradian X alphabet of 126 characters. There was Risk, which Rory and Amy absolutely said no to, exchanging worried glances.

“What about this one?” Brian pulled out a rather attractive looking wooden box with a complicated figure of eight symbol inlaid in the top and the words ‘Game of Rassilon’ around the edge.

“Oh, now you’re talking,” River responded enthusiastically. “When did you get that?”

“Last Christmas – from HIM,” Amy told her. “We only played it once.”

“Why?” Brian asked cautiously. He brought the box to the coffee table and opened the lid. Inside was a fold out playing board with the same design from the lid making the route the counters had to travel. The board was hexagonal and at each point there was a circle with swirling patterns inside that resolved into writing if anyone who had been in the TARDIS looked at them. Brian had, if only for one trip, so he could. The writing was a very elaborate poem about a man called Rassilon.

“It’s dangerous,” Rory told his father.

“How so?” he asked looking at the silver figures the size of toy soldiers that came with the board.

“It’s from The Doctor,” Amy pointed out. “That’s a big enough clue.”

But Brian thought The Doctor was a really great chap. That wasn’t really a warning.

“Remember that film, Jumani, Dad,” Rory said. “The one with the possessed board game and Robin Williams over-acting as usual.”

“Ye…sss…..” Brian conceded.

“The only time we played this, we ended up with sixteen Ood locked in the spare bedroom, a Judoon trooper in the cellar, sentient squid in the bath and the bottom half of a Dalek in the kitchen.”

“Bottom half?” Brian didn’t know what a Dalek was but half of anything didn’t sound like a good idea. “Where did the top half go?”

“I have no idea,” Rory admitted. “We used the casing as a composter in the garden.”

“Oh, go on, mum and dad,” River pleaded with all the emotional blackmail of a ten year old in her far more mature voice. “Take a chance. We could have two teams. I’ll play with granddad against the two of you.”

“Fine by me as long as you don’t call me granddad again,” Brian said. He was intrigued and a little excited by the whole idea. He had heard almost all of Rory and Amy’s TARDIS travel tales by now. He had taken part in a couple of adventures himself, but not quite enough to dampen his enthusiasm for the extra-ordinary.

River’s enthusiasm had never been dampened in all the years she had been getting into scrapes with or without The Doctor and nobody was even altogether sure how long that was. She sat down beside Brian and reached to take one of the counters. Brian blinked as the plain silver figure resolved into two figures side by side, looking as much like himself and River as it was possible for something no bigger than an inch tall to look.

Amy picked up another piece and put it on the board opposite the grandfather and granddaughter team while Rory made long, cool non-alcoholic cocktails with lots of ice to sustain them through the first round. Needless to say the piece she put down looked like the two of them.

Brian picked up the dice and dropped it into the silver cup.

“Highest roll goes first?” he suggested, throwing the dice into the centre of the board and scoring five.

Rory got a four. Brian retrieved the dice and shook it for rather longer than seemed necessary.

“Who is this Rassilon, anyway?” he asked as he threw a two and prepared to move his counter.

“He was the Creator of the Time Lord race,” River explained. “The Doctor’s people. That’s his symbol we’re playing the game on – the Seal of Rassilon.”

“Nice chap, was he?” Brian queried placing the counter on the second space and passing the dice cup to Rory.

“Nobody really knows,” River continued. “All the records of Gallifreyan history were lost with the planet and The Doctor doesn’t really talk about that sort of thing at the best of times.”

“Creators, generally, tend to be ok sort of people,” Amy considered. “Bountiful, generous, all of that.”

“Well, I hope so,” Rory added as he threw a six and moved from the start position to a square with more of the Gallifreyan writing on it. “Oh… er…..”

“Not sentient squid again,” Amy whispered hopefully. “It’s a good job the Ood were there to clean the bathroom. All that ink squirted everywhere.”

But nothing came out of the board. Instead Rory got drawn into it. His hand went first, stretching like toffee, thinner and thinner, then the rest of him. Amy grabbed his other arm and squealed as she felt herself being dragged from the real world into some other dimension.

She blinked and looked around as she found herself in something like a huge, beautiful, post modernist cathedral with an impossibly high vaulted roof and columns of obsidian black all around a central altar of white marble.

Rory was still holding her hand. She was glad of that. She wasn’t exactly frightened, but was this really the best place to spend Christmas afternoon?

“We should have known better,” Rory said. “We knew this game was trouble.”

“What now, do you think?” Amy asked.

Rory shrugged. But her question was answered almost immediately. Above the altar a light coalesced into a hologram. A group of semi-transparent figures no bigger than five inch action figures stood together, dressed in various curious kinds of clothes.

“We know that one,” Amy said, pointing to the three-dimensional image of a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a long coat, wide-brimmed hat and a ludicrously long multi-coloured scarf. “It’s The Doctor in one of his former lives. We met him once – on SangC'lune – when our Doctor was ill.”

“The others must be Time Lords, too,” Rory guessed. “Friends of his. Or… that one is really old. Maybe it’s his dad.”

The elderly man looked very wise and venerable and Amy thought he wasn’t somebody anyone called ‘dad’. It was far too prosaic.

“These Time Lords are trapped in the Game of Rassilon,” said a disembodied voice with the deep tones of the male lead of a grand opera. “Your quest is to find them and bring them out of the game dimensions. When all are found you will be judged worthy.”

“I don't really want to be judged, worthy or otherwise,” Rory answered. “I just want to relax after my Christmas dinner.”

The voice didn’t say anything in response to that. Apparently that was the challenge this time around and they were deemed to have accepted it. The hologram faded again. They looked carefully around the cavernous hall and wondered if it had any exits.

“Well, there must be something. This IS a game, after all, not a trap.”

“’I hope it is. Suppose some enemy of The Doctor has hijacked it for some reason. Maybe….”

Again Amy didn’t complete her train of thought. It was derailed by a sound of somebody calling out for help in a loud whisper that echoed around them making it difficult to work out just where it was coming from.

“Up there,” she said at last. “On that gallery.”

They both looked. There was a very narrow balcony very close to the roof. A figure looked down from there and they got an idea of just how high it really was from the fact that he looked very little bigger than the hologram of him they had just seen.

“It’s one of The Doctor’s friends,” Rory said. “Come on. We’ve got to help him.”

“Why can’t he get down?” Amy asked. “Surely there are stairs somewhere?”

“Those….” Rory pointed to a thick obsidian black column. There was a doorway in it and inside was a spiral staircase.

A moving spiral staircase.

“Wasn’t there one of those in Hogwarts?” Amy commented. “I hope she doesn’t want to sue for copyright.”

Rory laughed and stepped onto the staircase. It felt different to an ordinary escalator because of the corkscrew turning as well as upwards motion. Amy was right behind him, pressing her hands on the right side wall as the staircase twisted to the left around a central column.

“Oh, I should have known it wouldn’t be THAT easy!” Rory exclaimed as the stairs stopped moving, then reversed so that they were going down. He took two steps upwards to each one moving down and slowly made headway against the tide. Amy hurried to keep up with him. It was hard work and they couldn’t pause or it would all be for nothing.

After a few minutes of that the escalator reversed again and they rode it upwards, but they were ready for anything and when the stairs flattened into a slope they wedged their hands against column and wall and took slow, hard steps up until it started to behave again. For a while, they thought they were walking upside down on the underside of the steps, but that might just have been an optical illusion.

Finally they came to the top of the stairs. They stepped off and looked along the gallery. The Time Lord was there and now they could see that he was chained to the wall by leg irons and a chain long enough for him to walk almost to the top of the spiral escalator, but no further.

Amy studied him closer while Rory looked at the chain and pondered how to free him. He was a little taller than she was, but shorter than Rory with a mop of black hair and a worn but friendly face. He was dressed in clothes that might have belonged to a circus clown if they were any other colour than black and white.

“If there was a sharp rock or something I could try to break the chain,” Rory said.

“If there was a sharp rock he would probably have figured that out without our help,” Amy pointed out.

“The key is up there,” the Time Lord told them, pointing to a small ledge about ten foot above the balcony level. “Do you have a good sense of balance, young man? I could give you a leg up.”

“I’ll give that a try,” Rory answered. The Time Lord bent and put his hands together. Rory put his foot into them and used the momentum to push himself up until he could reach the ledge. He grasped the key, trying not to look down past the balustrade to the floor far below. He felt the Time Lord wobble a little underneath him, but he thrust the key in his pocket and told him to let him down gently.

Amy reached out to help steady him as he touched solid floor again. Then he bent and inserted the key in the leg irons. It turned slowly but surely and there was a satisfying thunk. The Time Lord stepped out of the irons, rubbing his ankles and complaining about pins and needles.

“We’d better get out of here,” Rory suggested. “The stairs are weird but doable, if you’re up to it.”

“I’m up to it, thank you very much, Jamie,” he answered.

“Rory,” Rory answered. “My name is Rory.”

“Yes, of course. You reminded me of somebody… a friend… a long time ago…. Yes, let’s get going. Lead the way, Rory.”

Rory led the way. He was relieved to see that the spiral stairs were going down for the moment – the way they wanted to go. He stepped onto them first followed by the Time Lord and Amy bringing up the rear.

They had rounded the first corner when the steps turned into a slide. All of them fell, Rory forward, Amy and the Time Lord going backwards down and around what was essentially a stone helter skelter.

“Do you have to enjoy it quite so much?” Amy asked the Time Lord, who was laughing and whooping with all the joy of a child at the fair. He didn’t answer, except to laugh even more.

To their astonishment, they landed, not in the strange cathedral like place, but on their own living room carpet. Rory ‘oofed’ as the Time Lord and Amy both piled on top of him. River and Brian looked at them for a moment and then came to help extract them from the pile.

“We saw it all,” Brian said. “It was like watching a film. Is everyone all right?”

“Nothing bruised but our dignity,” said the Time Lord as he stood and smoothed down his coat.

“Good to see you, Doctor,” River said with a smile laden with meaning.

“What?” Amy looked at the middle aged man with laughter lines on his face. “You mean he’s…..”

“I’ve seen pictures,” River explained. “The ten men you saw in that hologram… they’re all The Doctor… our Doctor… in his different lives.”

“Quite so,” The Doctor said. He reached out to shake River’s hand. “I take it you are all friends of mine in some future time?”

“A little more than friends,” River began, but Amy shot her a look. This wasn’t the time to introduce herself as his future wife, or to tell him that he was in the home of his parents-in-law. “We’ve shared some adventures,” she added. “But today we’re just meant to be enjoying Christmas.”

“Have a drink, Doctor,” Brian said, settling everything. “A glass of sherry, perhaps?”

“A capital idea, thank you,” he replied. He took a seat at the table and glanced at the board and the pieces. “Ah, I see what’s going on. It’s the Game of Rassilon. I remember when it was devised – as a training tool for the Celestial Intervention Agency. Now it’s an amusement. Amazing.”

“I’m not sure about amusement,” Rory commented. “It looks like it could get hairy. And we don’t have any choice about it. We have to carry on with the game now that it’s started.”

“Apart from anything else, we owe it to The Doctor,” Amy pointed out. “If all of his former lives are trapped in the game we have to help them… him.”

“I agree,” River said. “Brian, it’s up to us, next.”

“I’ll go make up some turkey sandwiches,” Amy added. “They… he… might be hungry.”

Brian sat down at the table and rolled the dice. He moved the counter the five places he earned from that roll and prepared himself for just about anything.

“Hello?” He looked around at nothing – at absolute darkness. He looked down but it was so very pitch dark he couldn’t even see what, if anything, he was standing on. “River?”

There was no answer. He tried to remember if River had been touching the counter along with him when he was sucked into the game. He wasn’t sure if she was even sitting down at the table again.

He was on his own, in the dark.

But at least he wasn’t helpless. He reached into his pocket and found a penlight torch. Its small but powerful beam showed up a black floor but no walls within its reach.

He heard a voice in the distance, a male voice calling out.

“Hello, is there ANYONE there?” he called back.

“Yes,” a voice answered. “Who are you?”

“Brian Williams,” Brian replied. “Who are you?”

“I’m The Doctor,” the voice came back. “Brian Williams? Who is Brian Williams? Are you one of the Brigadier’s people?”

“No. I don’t know any Brigadier. I’m a handy man. I’m… I suppose… I’m here to help you.”

“Well, then I’m very pleased to meet you, Brian. Can you follow the sound of my voice?”

“Yes, keep talking.”

The Doctor kept talking. Brian walked carefully, following his voice. The strange dark place had directions, at least, and no obvious obstructions.

Then the beam of his torch fell on a wall, at last. There was a steel gate in it, and the man he assumed to be The Doctor was behind it. He looked a little older than Brian himself, with a mane of curling white hair and a distinguished face. He was dressed in a rather old-fashioned way like a medical doctor or some sort of professional from the early twentieth century or a member of some kind of exclusive gentleman’s club.

“I’m locked in, I’m afraid,” he said with a wry expression. “Do you think you could help?”

“Let me have a look,” Brian answered. He moved the torch beam around the wall beside the gate. There was a panel of a kind, the sort that usually had a keypad for operating an electronic lock.

This one had no keypad, but the pattern etched into the panel looked very familiar to a man who habitually carried a screwdriver, a packet of fuses and a mini soldering kit in his jacket pocket.

“This is a circuit board,” he said. “Only it’s incomplete. Some of the circuits aren’t closed. Do you think it operates this door?”

“I expect so,” The Doctor answered. “But there’s no way to complete the circuit.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Brian answered. He reached into his jacket pocket for the mini soldering kit. It was actually a brand new kit, a present from Rory left under the Christmas tree this morning. The battery in the soldering iron was fresh and there was a whole reel of solder.

“Is something burning?” The Doctor asked as Brian set to work.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” he answered in a slightly muffled voice because he was holding the screwdriver in his mouth. “I’ll have this done in a jiffy.” He soldered a piece of wire across one of the gaps in the circuit and fitted a fuse, thirteen amp, in another section. “Last bit,” he said after a while. There was a satisfying hum as power went through the circuit and a click as the electronic lock disengaged. The Doctor pushed the gate open and stepped through. He looked at Brian’s handiwork and shook him by the hand.

“I couldn’t have done better myself,” he said. “Well done, old chap. Now, how do we get out of here?”

Brian didn’t need to answer that question. There was a bright flash of light and the next moment they were both standing in Amy and Rory’s living room. River song pressed sherry glasses into their hands and Amy offered The Doctor a turkey sandwich. The other Doctor was already tucking into two of them at once. He greeted him like an old friend.

“So we’re all stuck in the game, are we?” he said. “And it’s up to these young people to rescue us.”

“Seems like it,” the dark haired Doctor answered. “It’s going to get crowded in here before they’re done.”

“Oh, this place seems quite spacious,” the new Doctor responded. “And comfortable. The sandwich is very nice, thank you, my dear young lady.”

“I think,” River said. “What he means is that no room is big enough for all of his different personalities when they get together. They tend to disagree.”

“Well, I do hope you WON’T this time,” Amy told them. “It IS Christmas, after all. Goodwill to all men – ought to include yourself.”

“We are your guests, my dear young lady,” the new Doctor told her with a graceful half bow. “You may be assured we will be polite guests – even jovial ones if possible.”

“Hear hear,” the other one agreed.

Amy offered them both mince pies. They accepted graciously. River sat down at the table and shook the dice.

“Wait,” Rory said to her, reaching out to stay her hand from the counter. “Are you sure it’s your turn?”

“Brian landed on ‘throw again’,” she answered and moved one space. Rory yelped as he felt himself being dragged into the game with her.

“This is different,” Rory commented when his head cleared. “The other place was kind of futurey. This looks….”

“Aztec,” River told him.

“Are you sure?”

“Who’s the archaeologist around here?”

“Good point. So… are we in Aztec times or are we in an ancient Aztec relic?”

“Neither,” River answered examining the pictographs on the wall of the chamber they were in. “This is a Mexican space ship. Not Mexican as in the place in Central America, but as in belonging to the race of people called the Mexica who once landed in that part of Earth and were hailed as gods by the indigenous people.”

“Er….” Rory recalled touching on Aztec culture in that part of school history that dealt with the early European settlers in the New World. It was about three pages in the secondary history text book.

But at no point did it mention that the Aztec gods were aliens.

“Where do we find The Doctor?” Rory asked deciding to gloss over those details for now.

“I’m betting he’s in here,” River answered turning a wheel beside a large, heavy door until an arrow shape engaged with a v-shaped notch in the wall. There was a click and the door opened.

The door led into another room, a vast one, with pictographs all around the walls, and in the middle a scaled down, but still massive stepped pyramid made of – or at least covered in – gold.

“He’s in THERE,” River said with absolute certainty.

“You said he was in this room,” Rory pointed out.

“Well, he is. The ziggurat is in this room. He’s inside it.”

“And how do we get him out?”

River walked carefully around the pyramid explaining to Rory, who didn’t really need to know it, that ‘ziggurat’ was properly the term for the stepped pyramids of Mesopotamia and the Persian plateau, but had been applied to the Aztec constructions, too. He noted that there were pictograms embossed into the gold all around and that River could read them. He couldn’t. Or perhaps he wasn’t trying hard enough. Ordinary written languages translated for him since he had been in the TARDIS and absorbed its Babel fish radiation, but these pictures still looked like ‘stick man, squiggle, triangle, eye, sun’ to him.

“This is the door,” River told him. There WAS just the faintest outline of a shape that might be a door. If Rory had paid attention in geometry, he would have known that it was an isosceles trapezoid. Since he didn’t, it was simply narrower at the top than at the base.

There was a pictogram on it – sun, eye, footprints, stick man, rugby ball, man pretending to be a frog.

“Silly,” River chided her father. “The glyphs are read right to left for one thing. The man is paying obeisance to the soldier with a shield – not a rugby ball – who travelled with a message from the all-seeing sun-god.”


“It’s a line of poetry. It probably doesn’t signify anything much. But it’s the code for getting this door open. See that wheel on the right hand side of the door… like a golden scroll wheel set into the wall.”

Rory had not noticed that it was a wheel until he pushed it and found that it revolved. Each facet revealed as he turned had a symbol on it – or a part of a symbol – similar to the ones on the door.

“You’ve got the bottom half of the glyphs. I’ve got the top half here on the left. Scroll around until you find the bottom half of the man paying obeisance.”

Rory did as she said. River looked for the top half of the glyph. They both lined them up carefully.

“Ok, now if this works how I think it works, we both push at the same time.”

They pushed. There was a clunk somewhere inside the pyramid.

“I get it,” Rory said. “It’s like an Aztec combination lock. Isn’t it a bit dumb putting the combination on the door, though?”

“We’re on a ship in deep space. I don’t think they expect anybody beaming aboard to try their luck. Anyway, next one – the shield.”

This was slightly harder as there were six bottom halves of shields on the wheel. Rory had to look carefully for the exact design. The first time he got it wrong and the wheels would not push in.

Then the stick man – soldier, followed by the footprints. Those were easy enough. The eye was a little harder. Again there were versions with very slight differences. Rory chose carefully, not wanting to look silly in front of River.

Finally, they matched the top and bottom halves of the elaborate sun symbol and pushed one last time. The clunk was followed by a grinding sound as the door slid back slowly.

And three men stepped out. One was an elderly, white haired man wearing a black cape and leaning on a walking stick. Beside him was a tall man wearing an outfit straight out of an Edwardian smoking room and a hairstyle like a Romantic poet. Behind them came a skinny man in a crumpled brown pinstripe suit who grinned widely when he saw River.

“Hello, Sweetie,” she said with a smile as wide as his. “I don’t think you’ve met my dad.”

All three Doctors looked at River and then at Rory and were ever so slightly puzzled.

“Never mind that,” Rory said. “We need to get out of this. Last time it was easy, but I don’t know what we do next….”

They didn’t have to do anything. Moments later they were standing on the carpet in the drawing room. Amy hugged Rory. River introduced her to The Doctors as ‘mum’. That meant explaining some of their peculiar relationship to all five of the versions of him. Amy found it odd to think that she was the future mother-in-law of all of them, including the white-haired old man who turned down the sherry and asked for a nice cup of tea. She brought it to him and he smiled warmly at her with a twinkle in his eyes that reminded her, in an odd way, of The Doctor she knew, who looked only a little bit older than her.

“That’s the nature of regeneration, my dear,” he told her. “We Time Lords can become young and vigorous again after a long, fruitful life, but it does complicate relationships with those races who live their days one after the other.”

“I’m learning to cope with it,” she admitted. “But this is a bit of a shock. What… happens… when this is all over? I mean… all of you… and the other five we still need to rescue from the game… you all come before the Doctor we know… the one who River claims to be married to. Doesn’t that mean you have fore-knowledge of us? Because… when we first met… I’m sure you didn’t know me.”

“The game world has a fractal capture function,” explained the one with the Edwardian-Romantic look whose accent, for some reason, had a Liverpudlian resonance.

“Huh?” Unfortunately that explanation really didn’t help.

“You know how to make a screen capture from a film on your computer?” the Doctor in the pinstripe suit told her. “It’s like that… only far more complicated.”

“You’re sillier in the version I know. You would explain about the screencap and then say it’s nothing like that,” Amy told him.

“Well, that is silly,” the Edwardian one said. “It’s exactly like this. The game captured a moment from each incarnation of my life… our lives… a moment that we wouldn’t even notice. All of us here are those moments preserved for the duration of the game. When it’s over, we’ll catch up with ourselves, but we won’t remember anything that happened, because it will only be like that single frame of a film, gone before we have time to grasp hold of it.”

Amy understood, more or less.

“It’s a shame. I think I’ll never forget all of you.”

“Amy, it’s your throw,” Brian called to her. “Do you want me to come with you? I don’t mind, really. I quite enjoy this sort of thing and it doesn’t seem to matter about teams at all.”

“You do enjoy it, don’t you,” Amy commented as she threw the dice. Brian put his hand over hers as she moved four places. Both were slightly disappointed to land on ‘throw again’ when they had been anticipating a weird journey into the game dimensions.

There was no doubt about it the next time. Amy was glad of the pressure of Brian’s hand on hers as she began to be sucked into the game, and when her feet touched the ground in that other place. It reminded her that she was still whole, still Human.

“I’m on another planet!” Brian exclaimed with an awestruck voice. “This is my first other planet. At least, I think it is. I didn’t really see much in the other place. It might have been on another planet. It was dark.”

It was dark here, too, but only because it was night. They were on a wide plain of dry, dusty sand with some hills in the far distance outlined against the sky.

“You really DO enjoy all this, don’t you,” Amy said. “It isn’t always fun, you know. Sometimes the stuff The Doctor does, the things we get involve in because of him, they’re really dangerous.”

“I know. But this is just meant to be a game, and it hasn’t really been so bad up to now. And just look at that sky. Isn’t it incredible?”

Amy looked. The sky was a deep purple colour with a huge moon of a paler colour with a ring system around it. Stars twinkled in the night sky in constellations no other two humans had ever set eyes on.

It was beautiful.

“Have you ever seen anything quite like that?” Brian asked.

Amy was about to say that she had. The Doctor had taken them to planets with all sorts of skies and all sorts of moons.

But then she realised that she could never take such things for granted. She could never look at an alien sky and think she had seen everything.

No wonder Brian was enthralled.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” she admitted. “Very beautiful.”

“What’s that ahead?” Brian added. Amy turned her attention from the stars to the bright artificial light in the middle distance.

“That wasn’t there before, but why are we surprised by that? Obviously there are no rules about lights suddenly appearing in the middle of deserts.”

They headed towards the light, of course. There was nothing else to do.

As they drew closer, they noticed that the light came from the old-fashioned street lamps along the parapet of a bridge. The bridge crossed a fast-flowing river. It was the only way of crossing the river as far as Amy and Brian could make out.

In front of the bridge stood two robots. They were about the height of a tall man with metal faces with moulded Human-like features and flexible metal tunics and trousers over their bodies. In the middle of their chests were plaques with identifying numbers on them. The robot on the left was SV7. The one on the right was SV8.

As Amy and Brian got close enough to see the numbers they stood to attention and barred the way to the bridge.

“We need to get across there,” Amy said. “Please.”

“You cannot cross unless you pass the truth test,” said SV7 in a metallic voice.

“What’s that?” Brian asked.

“One of us always tells the truth. The other always tells falsehoods. You must judge which of us is the truth-teller by asking one question of only one of us.”

“Huh?” Brian looked puzzled.

“Oh, I know how to do this,” Amy told him. She stepped forward confidently and looked SV8 straight in his electronic eyes. “If I asked SV7 if he was the liar would he say yes?”

“Yes,” SV8 replied.

“Then you’re the liar and he tells the truth.”

“Correct,” said SV7. The two robots moved aside. The way across the bridge was clear. Amy stepped forward and waved. Two men were coming across the bridge towards her. One of them was that version of The Doctor she had met once before – the one with the hat and scarf and alarmingly boggling but delightfully humorous eyes. The other was frowning as if he found the whole thing a nuisance. He was dressed in an elderly black leather jacket and a jumper, trousers and Doc-Martins combination that made him look like an extra from one of those gritty northern dramas that tended to win all the BAFTAS.

“Doctor,” she said. “Doctors, I suppose I should say. I’m… glad to see you. I think we can get past the robots. I answered their question correctly.”

“Well done,” the Doctor in the long scarf told her. “Most people get confused by the Liar’s Paradox.”

“I didn’t know it was called that,” Amy admitted. “I saw it on the film Labyrinth.”

The leather jacket wearing Doctor laughed and told her she was a smart Human, no matter how she worked it out. He actually did have a gritty northern accent to go with the look.

“I’m not really that smart,” she conceded. “I’m not really sure how it works.”

“You asked SV8 if SV7 would admit to being the liar,” the scarf Doctor told her. “SV8 can’t be telling the truth, because if SV7 was the liar he would lie about it.”

“SV8 is the liar because SV7 would tell the truth – that he isn’t the liar,” the leather jacket Doctor added.

“Ok, I give up,” Amy told them as they stepped past the silent robots. “This is Brian, my father-in-law. This is his first alien planet, which is a pity, because we probably won’t be here for much longer. But the good news for you two is there are turkey sandwiches and mince pies at my house.”

The two Doctors looked at each other and even the sullen looking one grinned.

“Fantastic,” he said. “Let’s go.”

They got back to the living room after a few minutes of walking on the plain. One moment they were under that purple sky, the next they were under the paper streamers adorning the ceiling of the Pond-Williams drawing room. The two new Doctors looked at their other selves cautiously at first, then accepted a drink and food and joined in the conversation that River was having with them all about the nature of paradoxes in time travel. It seemed to be a friendly discussion, although the elderly, white haired one was being a little supercilious towards the one in the pinstripes, calling him ‘young man’ all the time and speaking of his ‘vast experience’. Amy wondered why, since they were the same man and their experiences surely equal to each other.

In fact, if the pinstripe man was a more recent ‘life’ then he was more experienced than the older one since he had all his own adventures on top of everything the others had learnt in their time.

“Don’t worry,” the one in the scarf told her. “It’s like that when Time Lords cross their own timelines. We really are our own worst enemies, you know.”

“You told me that once,” Amy said. “You, you, I mean. We met… But you probably don’t know about it, because of the whole paradox thing.”

“Never mind. The joy of first meetings can be savoured once more. And may I thank you once again for the timely rescue as well as the hospitality of your home.”

“That’s quite all right. Just so long as I don’t run out of chairs,” Amy answered. She looked around and noted that the two from her bedroom had been brought down as well as Rory’s office chair. The pinstripe Doctor was sitting on a bean bag that usually sat in the corner of the dining room.

Brian and Rory’s places at the table were empty.

“They rolled again, didn’t they!” she said. “I didn’t even notice.”

She hurried to the table and carefully studied the small flat screen at the edge of the board where Rory and Brian appeared as the very tiniest figures walking along a path in an alien landscape. They looked all right, anyway, and Brian was right about there not being anything very dangerous about the game - so far.

“Oh, look at that!” Brian exclaimed as the path ended at a deep, deep chasm with only one obvious way of crossing over to the dark temple on the cliff opposite.

“What is it? A giant chess board?”

The crossing was more like a huge mesh with spars about two foot wide that linked round hubs just big enough for a man to stand on. The unnerving thing was the empty space between the spars. The bottom of the chasm was shrouded in mist.

“I’m not sure WHAT it’s called, but something like it used to be on the telly when you were a lad. It’s a sort of… strategy game, I think they call it. One player moves, then the opposition, and you have to avoid landing on the same spot or you’re out.”

Rory tried to remember seeing anything like that on the TV when he was a boy. He actually didn’t spend a lot of time watching his own television. He was always at Amy’s house with her and Mels and they usually had MTV on. This meant nothing to him.

“It was on the Saturday morning kids programme,” Brian prompted. That definitely proved it. Rory was NEVER at home on Saturdays. He was always trailing around town with the girls, trying to insert something vaguely masculine into the conversation.

“I’ll go first,” Brian volunteered. He stepped onto the closest spar and reached the first hub. At the other end of the grid a robot materialised in a shimmer of light. It was a very basic thing with a single wheel beneath it and a short, stubby body like a mobile bollard. It moved two ‘places’ on the grid and stopped.

Brian moved one place to the left along the same axis of the grid. The robot moved two places. Brian moved one place forward.

Rory could see how the game worked. The challenger – his dad – could move once. The robot moved twice. But Brian could go diagonal or backwards, left, right and forwards to avoid being in a direct line two spaces away from the robot.

It got a little hairy when Brian was more than halfway across. He was within three spaces of the robot and only had two options to move into. One left him two spaces away from the robot, which would be game over. The other was only one space away from it. Brian wasn’t certain what happened in that case. Could the robot take a single move and beat him or was it required to take two?

It took two, away from him. Brian made a judicious move that put five spaces between him and the robot and he was now only three moves away from reaching the other side. Rory watched anxiously, wondering what would happen to his dad if the robot got him. Would he be disintegrated before his eyes, transported to an asteroid, or something worse – like being erased from all existence like he had been once when he was taken by the crack in the universe.

Brian made it. He turned and waved to his son, urging him to follow him. Rory knew he was going to have to do it. He stepped onto the same hub his father had started on, but then he realised he couldn’t remember where he went next. Besides, was that a safe path the second time? Could the robot learn?

Rory glanced at his opponent. It was still on the far side of the grid, yet. He was safe for maybe two moves before he had to start thinking strategically. He took those moves, then realised his mistake. The robot had outflanked him. He had nowhere to go except into its path.


“Dad, what happens if I move onto the robot’s square? Do I beat it?”

“I don’t know,” Brian answered. “I never thought of that as a strategy.”

“I’m going to try it,” Rory said. “When it makes its next move it will be within one space of me. I’m going to step onto its circle.”

Brian bit his lip nervously. He wasn’t sure if that was a good idea or not, but he would rather have tried it himself than let his son risk it. He didn’t want to watch him being fatally electrocuted or atomised or anything else that a robot could do to him.

The robot moved. Rory took a deep breath and moved towards it. There was only a very small bit of room on the hub next to the robot. He swayed alarmingly before he found his footing.

The robot glowed red, then blue, then yellow, and emitted a low but piercing whistle, then it dematerialised in a shimmer that Rory was almost certain had an element of petulance to it. He wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but the robot seemed to have taken its ball and gone home in a huff.

He looked around. The grid was no longer a grid. The spaces had filled in to make a floor with an eye-achingly irritating repeated pattern. He ran across it to join his dad who hugged him emotionally.

“I was worried for a moment,” he said when they separated, remembering that they were British men not characters from an American touchie-feelie family movie.

“Me too,” Rory admitted. “I get fed up of dying. Anyway, what about The Doctor? Is he in there?”

They both looked at the temple of black stone with steps leading up to a doorway edged in silver. It was dark inside. Neither of them really fancied going in there after the trouble they had already gone through.

But they didn’t have to. As they watched, people began to pour out of the temple, running down to the unguarded bridge across the chasm. There were dozens of them, hundreds, even.

“Who are they?” Brian wondered.

“People who were captured by the robot,” replied a blonde haired man in an outfit strangely resembling something worn for cricket in the 1920s. “Some of them have been here for a very long time. They’ll be glad to get home.”

“I bet they will,” Rory commented. “You’re The Doctor, of course. I recognise you from the hologram. You’re meant to come with us.”

“I am?” he looked surprised.

“Yes, there’s a sort of party going on,” Brian told him. “A Christmas reunion party. Sort of This is Your Lives. You can explain it to yourself, anyway.”

The Doctor didn’t think Brian was talking nonsense. He came with them back across the bridge and, in an eyeblink, arrived back at the now quite crowded drawing room. Amy was sitting with the three older versions of The Doctor who were all drinking tea with her. The scarf version was enjoying a mince pie and glass of sherry by himself. The leather jacket one was studying the game board intently. River was flirting with both the Edwardian and pinstripe versions. Both were flirting back.

“Are you before or after those two?” Rory asked.

“Before,” he answered.

“That makes you senior to them. I think you’d better referee, before they start to duel each other for her,” Brian suggested.

The Doctor looked at his two younger versions and at River. He smiled gently.

“I’m not sure I shouldn’t just leave them to it. May the best man, win!”

That was a ludicrous idea, of course. They both WERE the best man, since River had married the much later version of him. Anyway, the danger of The Doctor murdering himself over her was averted when she left the conversation and went to the game board to take her turn.

“There are two of them left, isn’t there?” Brian confirmed, after doing a headcount. “If she finds them both, then the game is over.”

“Then we can have a nice game of musical chairs to fit them all in,” Rory mused.

River Song looked around her new surroundings and hoped that the last two Doctors WOULD be here. She wasn’t sure if her team would win in that case or not. She wasn’t really sure winning had anything to do with it any more.

It had been a strange experience for her. Of course, she knew all about Time Lords. She had researched them generally and The Doctor in particular. She understood all about regeneration. But this was her first experience of The Doctor’s past lives. It was rather fascinating meeting all those earlier aspects of the man she actually loved.

She giggled as she thought about the older aspects. Imagine that old man with the walking stick was, in fact, her husband!

And that grumpy looking one in the leather jacket.

And did it mean that right here and now, she was married to all of them? The thought amused her for a little while as she negotiated a maze of corridors that she strongly suspected were changing as she walked around them. Her suspicion was confirmed when she came into a blind alley and turned, only to find the way back blocked. She turned back and saw the way now open.

“All right, stop playing games with me!” she called out. “I’ll just smash my way through. Play fair.”

Her voice echoed back at her, but she was sure her point had been made. The maze seemed a lot more stable now. To be certain she looked in her pocket and found a black marker pen. She used it to put arrows on the floor and walls when she made choices about where she was going. When she found a dead end she doubled back and found her marker unmolested and took the alternative route.

Many women might have felt uncomfortable wandering in a maze for hours. She knew it HAD been hours even though her watch didn’t appear to be working. She knew she would find her way out eventually – or in – whichever it was meant to be.

After another hour she was starting to get a little cheesed off with it. This was just about the most boring mission she had ever been on. And she was a woman with a very low boredom threshold – especially for an archaeologist.

She really wanted something to happen around the next damn corner – or the next – or the next.

But nothing happened until she was around the next corner after that, when she found herself tripped up by an umbrella with a question mark shaped handle that unexpectedly tangled with her legs.

“Oh dear,” the owner of the umbrella commented, first retrieving it then holding out a hand to help her up. “I wasn’t expecting a young woman. I thought these passages would be patrolled by something nasty like a Raston robot or a ruthless Cyberman.”

He rolled his ‘r’s in an exaggerated way and had a soft lowland Scots accent that River found pleasant to her ear.

“Doctor,” she said. “Of course. You’re… let me see… number seven, isn’t it? You haven’t seen number six around anywhere, have you?”

“He went that way,” the Doctor who looked like an amiable geography professor in a duffle coat and v-necked jumper (with question mark motif) pointed towards a left hand tunnel. A piece of blue twine was nailed to the wall and stretched away. “We had a bit of a disagreement about tactics. I thought it best to wait. He wanted to find a way out.”

“We’d better follow him,” River said. “You know you’re in the Game of Rassilon – the board game. We’ve been playing it. You’re the last ones we have to find.”

“We?” The Doctor queried. River unhitched the twine and began to roll it up as they followed the other Doctor’s trail. She explained her odd family tree to this easily approachable version of the man she loved.

She even admitted her own relationship to the much later version of himself. He looked at her in something like astonishment for a moment, then smiled warmly.

“My future self is a lucky man,” he told her.

River said nothing. That sounded a little corny, really. But he was so nice she couldn’t really criticise him for it.

The ball of twine was the size of a cricket ball when it ran out. There was no sign of the other Doctor, though.

“There,” the avuncular one said, pointing to a small coloured object on the floor by the left hand turn out of the corridor they were in. River picked it up. It was a small badge shaped like a yellow and blue cat.

“One of his,” the Doctor said. “He’s marking the trail, still.”

They found five more cat badges before they turned a corner at last and found the owner of those odd little trinkets. River’s eyes narrowed as she viewed the strangest outfit she had ever seen outside of a circus tent.

“Yes, I know. Fashion sense wasn’t a part of my personality that time around,” the Doctor told her quietly before his earlier self noticed them.

“This is River Song,” he said in introduction. “She came into the game to find us.”

“Who’s going to find her?” The Doctor replied slightly tetchily.

“Er… you are, I think,” River answered. There was a sound familiar to all of them and the TARDIS materialised. She wondered which version of The Doctor was going to step out of the blue door.

“Hello, sweetie,” she purred when the one who thought bow ties were cool stepped out wearing a straw hat with a daffodil in the band.

“Hello, River,” he answered. “Happy Easter.”

“It’s Christmas, and we’re playing the Game of Rassilon,” she answered. “I hope you’re here to give us all a lift back to the in-laws. There’s a turkey sandwich and mince pie in it for you.”

“Sounds good to me. Come on, River, and me… and me.” He stepped aside from them all to board. “No comments about the décor. I LIKE it like this.”

“Happy Easter,” he said again as he stepped out of the TARDIS into the very crowded drawing room.

“Christmas,” Amy replied. “And it’s good to see you… all of you. Even if I am running out of mince pies. It’s nearly tea time, anyway. I’ve got ham salad and turkey slices, pork pie and pickles, and a Christmas cake. Help Rory put that game away now we’re done with it and we can enjoy a nice family meal.”

“I don’t really do family meals,” The Doctor pointed out. “I never have.” He looked around at his other selves and felt a wave of nostalgia for each of those lives and the friends he had known. A host of faces crossed his memory, some alive, some dead, and he remembered what somebody had told him when he was the one who wore pinstripe suits.

“You have the biggest family in the world.”

“Actually, that sounds like a great idea. And later, I’ll take this little lot back where they belong.”

“Not for a while,” Amy told him. “Let’s make an evening of it. I don’t quite know what we’ll do… I can’t see you guys playing charades or Christmas karaoke. But if they’re all going to disappear when it’s all over, and not remember doing this at all… then let’s make the best of it while we can. Christmas with The Doctor…. All of you.”

“Yeah,” he answered with a wide smile. “Yeah, why not. And for your information I am – and always have been – very good at charades – and karaoke. This could turn out to be a VERY good Christmas, Pond.”