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

David Campbell came out of his shed into a frost covered garden just as the sound of a TARDIS materialising cut into the early evening air. It was the one still shaped like a 1950s police box that belonged to Vicki and Sukie. He waited until his daughter stepped out, bringing a large hessian bag containing souvenirs of her latest trip in time and space with her. She waved to Vicki and the door closed. The TARDIS dematerialised.

“Hi, dad,” she said brightly.

“Hello, Sukie,” he replied. “Where have you been?”

“The antique market on Xian Xien,” she answered. “I got something nice for mum… for Christmas.”

“You remembered that it IS Christmas next week, then?”

Sukie frowned. There was an edge in her father’s voice. She recognised an old bone of contention between them.

“You’re hardly ever home lately. If you’re not away with Davie at his racetracks, your off lord knows where with Vicki and those two lads. And I’m still not sure I’m happy about that.”

“Jimmy and Earl weren’t with us this time. It was just a shopping trip.”

“That’s even worse. Two young girls in a strange place, alone. I think I’d rather they WERE there, to protect you.”

“That’s a complete contradiction, dad. You can’t worry about us travelling with two boys and then want them there to look after us.”

“Yes, I can. I’m your father, and I worry about you.”

“You don’t have to. I can look after myself. Vicki and I are experienced TARDIS pilots, now.”

“You’ve been doing it for two years. I still wonder about The Doctor, and he’s been piloting his TARDIS for near enough a thousand years.”

“Yes, but we’re not as reckless as he is,” Sukie pointed out. “Anyway, I’m home now. And I’m not going way again until next Tuesday.”

“Tuesday is Christmas Eve. You’re not planning to be home for Christmas?”

“We’re having a Tudor Christmas with our friends in 1470s Lancashire. We were INVITED.”

“You’re INVITED to have Christmas with your mother and me and your grandfather. It’s bad enough we have to make arrangements with both of your brothers. At least we ought to count on you being here – since this is where you LIVE.”

“I wish I was old enough not to live here,” Sukie retorted. “Chris and Davie are lucky. They can live their own lives, how they choose.”


“Sukie is a baby name. You treat me like a baby. When are you going to realise I’m a grown up?”

David began to answer that question but Sukie turned away and stalked off towards the house. He sighed. His daughter used to be a lot less trouble. It was his sons who gave him all the sleepless nights.

It probably wouldn’t have given David any comfort to know that, a mere mile away, The Doctor was having an almost identical conversation with his own teenage daughter. It hadn’t quite reached the point where she talked about moving out of the family home, but it was going in that direction.

“I’m GOOD at piloting my TARDIS,” Vicki insisted to her father. “I’m not going to get lost in time and space. I’m not going to fall into an alternate dimension.”

“Alternative dimension,” The Doctor corrected her. “An alternate replaces the original and there is usually only one or the other. There are many alternative dimensions existing at the same time.”

“I get grammar lessons at school. I don’t need them at home, too,” Vicki replied petulantly. To make matters worse, her father wasn’t even listening to her. He was standing in the middle of the rarely used ballroom of their mansion home planning where Christmas decorations should go for a huge party he was planning.

“I’ve ordered gold and silver anti-gravity balloons – two hundred of them. They’ll float freely around the ceiling, above the chandeliers. They’ll be fitted with cold burning candles, of course. The balloons will reflect back the living light. It’ll look fantastic.”

“I won’t be here to see it. Sukie and I, and the boys, are going to Lancashire in the fifteenth century for Christmas.”

“No, you’re not,” The Doctor replied. “We’re having a party here at home, with friends and family.”

“The Southworths are OUR friends – Isobel and Christopher. They invited us especially, and it was YOU who said that we had to stop spending ten days away in an afternoon, otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem. We could go any time.”

“I just want you to live your life one day after another – not in huge chunks of contracted time. I’m worried that you’ll go away one morning as my little girl and come back as a grown up.”

“Daddy, I AM a grown up. When are you going to realise that?”

“Maybe when you stop calling me daddy,” he answered with a warm smile. He reached out to hug her. “Besides, sixteen isn’t a grown up, even if you WERE really sixteen. We lost enough of your childhood to begin with. Try to understand how me and your mother feel.”

“That should be ‘your mother and I’,” Vicki said, countering his grammar correction from earlier. Then she hugged him. “I love you daddy. But I just want to do my own thing. There’s a universe out there that I want to be a part of, and living one day after the other just isn’t enough. Can’t you understand that?”

“I understand that perfectly, my little love,” The Doctor answered. “I was exactly the same. But I was a hundred and eighty before I was allowed that freedom.”

Vicki laughed softly.

“I’d go mad waiting that long.”

“I know. That’s why I’m glad that you have the chance to do those things. But take your time about it. You have your whole life ahead of you to explore the universe. It doesn’t have to be all at once.”

“All right. But Christmas is still all arranged. We’re expected. I’ve got my gown made. It’s based on a Gallifreyan ladies evening dress but with Tudor style embroidery.”

“Gallifreyan styles for women were always a little like Tudor fashion. It fits well. I’m sure you’ll look beautiful.”

“So you don’t mind me being away for Christmas?”

“I mind a lot. But I’ll try not to be too disappointed.” He hugged her tightly and kissed her forehead as he used to kiss his granddaughter, Susan, when she was the same age and just as strong-minded and anxious to live her own life. “I’ll try to save you a couple of balloons.”

She laughed at the idea and left him to his thoughts about the ballroom decorations. But his mind wasn’t on the party, now. He went back to the drawing room. His wife and her mother - his daughter-in-law – were talking.

“Vicki isn’t going to be with us for Christmas,” he announced.

“I know,” Rose answered. “I’ve just been on the vid-phone with Susan. She’s really upset. Sukie and David had a row about it. Both of them as stubborn as each other. Sukie is determined to have her way. David has already reached the ‘not under my roof’ line and she’s threatening to move out and live with Davie, instead.”

“Oh dear,” The Doctor said in a quiet, resigned tone. His discussion with Vicki hadn’t quite gone in that direction, but he knew it was only a matter of time. The girls were growing up faster than their parents could see and it wouldn’t be long before they really could make those decisions for themselves.

“Doctor….” Jackie spoke up with a quiet tone that he knew spelt trouble. A quiet tone from Jackie always did. “Um… I was just telling Rose WE won’t be here for Christmas, either. At least if you don’t mind Christopher having the TARDIS. We’re invited to a Christmas ball on the Saturn Five diplomatic station… in the twenty-eighth century.”

“Garrick is going with them, of course,” Rose added. The Doctor nodded glumly. He knew what that meant. Wherever Garrick went, Peter went and vice versa. The two boys were as inseparable as twins, soul mates in all that they did.

“So it’s just you and me and the little ones for Christmas,” he deduced. “Just like it was when Vicki was little, before Peter was born. A small family….”

“That’ll be fun, too,” Rose said, though without a lot of conviction in her voice. “It doesn’t ALWAYS have to be Christmas on Waltons Mountain with everyone coming back home.”

The Doctor smiled. In this century Rose and her mum with their collection of twentieth century oldies DVD box sets were the only people who understood that cultural reference.

A quiet Christmas with the youngest children. It looked as if they had no choice in the matter, so they would have to get used to looking forward to it.

It WAS a pleasant enough day as it turned out. The Doctor and Rose enjoyed the happy, appreciative faces of their three youngest children as they pulled masses of wrapping paper off their first bicycles with stabilisers and learned to ride them up and down the ballroom floor. That was a huge mistake. The varnish on the five hundred year old hardwood floor would need professional care in the New Year. But it had been snowing all night, the paths outside were covered and the children wanted to try out their presents.

“The balloons were a great idea,” The Doctor said, looking up at a ceiling that shone with gold and silver light reflected off the cold burning candles.

“They look fantastic. We’ll use them again at New Year. Everyone will be home for that.”

“I hope so. It… really isn’t the same, is it?”

“It’s not even very much quieter,” Rose admitted as she stepped back out of the way of a bicycle race that was being won by little Sarah Jane because her brother and sister were both too busy analysing the way the stabilisers kept their bicycles upright to concentrate on peddling. “Three five year olds are as noisy as ten kids.”

“If I’d wanted a quiet life, I’d have carried on saving the universe, instead of settling down to the Domestic!” The Doctor, too, stepped out of the way of the oncoming bicycles and viewed the state of the floor philosophically.

“Five more minutes, kids,” Rose warned. “Dinner will be ready, soon.”

The youngsters fully intended to go back to their bicycles after dinner, but the big meal at an unaccustomed time of day wore them down and they contented themselves with the construction of a very large three dimensional jigsaw for most of the afternoon.

Just before tea time, the sound of the TARDIS materialising in the hall woke the children and adults alike from the sort of stupor that sets in when the excitement of Christmas Day is dying down. Peter and Garrick were followed by Jackie and Christopher, returned from their Christmas ball.

“It was a little boring really,” Christopher admitted.

“It was a LOT boring,” Jackie corrected him as she threw off her shoes and sank onto the sofa. “It’s good to be home with my feet up.”

Her three youngest grandchildren claimed the space around her on the sofa and told her about their bicycle adventures. Jackie remembered Rose learning to ride her first bike along the balcony outside the flats where she grew up.

“I remember the paths around our house,” Christopher said. “You watched me like a hawk in case I fell off, father.”

The Doctor smiled and let himself remember his ancestral home on Gallifrey without as much angst and regret as the memory used to give him. Today his cause for regret was Vicki’s insistence on being absent from their new family home on this day of all days, and the widening gap between father and rapidly growing up daughter that it signified.

The arrival of David, Susan and Robert after tea brought those regrets ever deeper. The Doctor and Rose had their younger children firmly in the nest, but for Susan the first Christmas with all of her children ‘doing their own thing’ had been difficult. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to. The Doctor saw her unhappiness even without reaching into her thoughts telepathically. He sat by her side and held her close as he did when she was a girl who needed her grandfather for emotional support.

“I couldn’t make Sukie stay with us,” David admitted with a deeply unhappy sigh. “I’m still her father, but I don’t have any say in her life any more. I’m losing her more every day.”

The Doctor nodded. He understood that very same feeling. Both men had stopped short of ordering their daughters to stay home for Christmas, knowing that the inevitable row and the sullen resentment would not have made for a happy day. But it was a bitter pill to swallow.

“You were the same, David,” Robert said to his son. “The first year you were away at university, you near broke your mother’s heart when you wrote to say you were spending the Christmas with your new friends in London, and nothing would change your mind.”

David looked at his father in surprise. He had almost forgotten that he had once been a stubborn young man with ideas of his own. He recalled that year when he preferred to be among the bright young things of the city. He remembered, too, that he had started to tire of it by the following year and had been glad to come home to his family.

He tried not to remember that it was in his third year away from Scotland that the Daleks had destroyed everything that he called home.

“I did the same to my parents when I was a lad,” Robert recalled before his son could dwell on those bad memories. “Cattle prices were down and there wasn’t much money. I went to work in Glasgow for a few months, and the farm seemed a cold, dull place to go home to.”

“I know I missed a couple of Christmases when I first went off with The Doctor,” Rose admitted. “The first one was all his fault. He couldn’t tell the difference between twelve hours and twelve months. But other times… I was scared that I’d get used to being home again and not want to leave, so I stayed away.”

Jackie nodded with a thin smile and hugged the sleepy youngsters at her side. That year when she didn’t know where Rose was had been a nightmare for her. Christmas was the worst. She had cried a lot. She looked at Susan and recognised that she had done some of that today, too.

“When we’re young, we do stupid things,” Christopher said, summing it up. “And we don’t think about whether we’re hurting other people. But Susan, Sukie still loves you and David. Vicki still adores you, father. There’s no need for this to cause an impossible rift between you.”

“No, there isn’t,” The Doctor announced, standing up decisively. “Christopher, Jackie, do you mind babysitting for a while?”

“I don’t mind,” Jackie replied. “These three are no trouble at all.”

“Don’t bet on it,” The Doctor told her. “When they’ve got their second wind they’ll run you into the ground before bedtime. But Rose, Susan, David… if our kids don’t want to come here for Christmas, I think it’s time we went to them. Robert… would you care for a jaunt through time and space?”

“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll teach these two strapping lads how to build houses out of playing cards. David used to love that at their age.”

Peter and Garrick watched the old man whose exact relationship to them was more complicated than the pattern on a cable knit jumper take out a pack of cards from his pocket and lay them on the table. They pulled up chairs beside him.

“Good idea,” The Doctor said as he led the way out to the hall. “Building houses of cards is a skill even Time Lord kids have to learn the hard way. There are no special powers any of us have that helps with that. It’ll keep them absorbed for hours.”

“When they do figure it out, they’ll probably construct a replica of the Houses of Parliament out of cards,” Rose added, knowing her son and his soul mate perfectly well.

Susan remembered what it was like when her twin boys were learning faster than anyone could expect to teach them, but that just reminded her that neither of them were here, now, on Christmas Day.

“Susan, trust me,” The Doctor told her as he opened the TARDIS and led her inside by the hand. Everyone found seats on the sofas while he went to the console and set the first co-ordinate.

The people of Cíeló knew nothing of the Human custom of Christmas other than a few stories Chris, the man from the stars, wise beyond his years, had told to his immediate in-laws. They did have a winter season, though, and in the midst of it they had a custom that was observed.

The ritual had not begun when the police box shaped TARDIS materialised on the edge of the area in the centre of the village where the people gathered for formal occasions. The sun was just beginning to set and the sky was luminous pink to deep orange, to a pale blue at the zenith and deeper blue at the far horizon. Stars were already bright in the darkest part of the hemisphere and beginning to shine palely elsewhere.

It was cold and crisp with the ground frost hard within the village and snow covering the plain beyond its boundaries. The people were dressed in warm clothes homespun from the wool of a grazing animal something like the Earth sheep and dyed in natural colours.

The arrival of the TARDIS caused a stir among the people, but Chris Campbell stepped forward confidently and greeted the new arrivals.

“Mum!” He hugged his mother cheerfully, and reached to shake his father’s hand. “Granddad… Rose. Why are you all here?”

“It’s Christmas, and I wanted to spend time with you,” Susan answered, and that was explanation enough.

“It’s good to have you here. Let me introduce you to Carya’s parents. They’ll be delighted to meet you. Come along. It’s the Festival of Argria tonight. It’s something like a Solstice festival with a lunar eclipse and a bonfire thrown in – and a feast afterwards, of course. Everything the Cíeló do involves a feast. You’ll all be well fed.”

“We’ve eaten, already, but it all sounds wonderful,” Susan told him. “Show us where we should sit.”

As guests of honour, Chris’s Earth family were given seats within the inner circle that surrounded the great totem of the Cíeló and the bonfire that had been built during the daylight hours.

All but The Doctor, that is. Chris brought a burning torch to him.

“The oldest man in the company lights the fire. That is you, granddad.”

“Of course it is. But don’t tell anyone just HOW old I am, will you?”

Chris laughed and took his place beside his wife and son with his mother and father at his other side. His father-in-law, Tilo, Keeper of Rites, stood beside The Doctor and recited the words of the ancient ritual.

“The eclipse will begin in a few minutes,” he explained to his parents, pointing to the bright moon that was almost directly overhead. “The fire is lit in order to preserve its light for the time that it is gone from the heavens. When the moon’s light begins to return, it is sent back to the sky.”

“A charming ceremony. But… does this happen on the same day every year? That’s unusual, surely. I’ve never heard of an eclipse that is so regular as that.”

“This is an unusual planet,” Chris answered. “But one I am very fond of.”

The eclipse started exactly on time, a sliver of the moon being eaten away by the shadow of the planet passing in front of the sun. Slowly the sliver became a great circular bite, and as The Doctor lit the bonfire expertly and Tilo the Elder continued to recite the ancient words of the Festival of Argria the moon was completely engulfed except for a pale red corona around the dark shadow. The bonfire grew brighter and the people watched its dancing light. Minerals carefully planted within the wood and other combustible materials ignited at regular intervals sending up multi-coloured flames and sparks. They represented the hopes and dreams of the Cíeló people for their year to come.

“Fireworks and bonfire in one,” David commented. “Very clever. And they call these primitive people?”

“I don’t,” Chris answered. “Nor does anyone else who has visited. They just don’t use the technology we take for granted. Not even a lawnmower.”

David chuckled at the joke at his own expense as a keen gardener and paid full attention to the bonfire. The moon was beginning to re-appear from the shadow and as it did so, sparks of silver rose high into the air from the bonfire. Chris thought of his brother who could have told everyone just which minerals caused such effects when they burnt, but he didn’t need to know, and nor did anyone else, to enjoy the light shooting back into the heavens to re-ignite the silver moon.

Now the feast began. The young women of the village left their fathers and brothers and brought baskets of food and flagons of drink to share around. Meanwhile three men raked mis-shaped balls wrapped in burnt leaves from the base of the fire. These were placed in a wide basin and offered to each of the villagers and guests. Susan peeled off the leaves and bit the vegetable within. She was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted like mild, creamy cheese, warm and melting in her mouth.

“Ground cheese,” she said. “We had them on Gallifrey. I loved them when I was a little girl.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “Very much like the Gallifreyan fruits.”

It was half a millennia since he had eaten ground cheese, but he had never forgotten the taste. On any other day he might have felt melancholy, but he was determined not to give in to anything but good cheer at Christmas, especially his own choice of Christmas.

The feast lasted for many hours, fortunately for those who had eaten a Christmas dinner and tea already in the past day. They spaced out the food and drink and joined in the dancing that took place around the totem. Finally, as the moon set and the bonfire died down, families took to their homes. Tilo worried that there wasn’t room in his modest glass house for all the visitors, but The Doctor assured him that they would all sleep well in the TARDIS and join him for breakfast before they went on their way.

The breakfast was cold cheese fruit and barley bread with a hot milky drink. They enjoyed it thoroughly. Susan had time to talk to Chris afterwards.

“I’ll be home in a couple of days,” he promised. “The people here regard me as a kind of elder. They have a big meeting tomorrow about winter hunting and what crops they’ll plant in the spring. They value my input.”

“You’re a very clever man, Chris,” Susan told her son. “And I’m very proud of you. Come to dinner when you’re home and tell me more about this world.”

“I will.” He kissed his mother on the forehead. He was so much taller than her that he leaned forward to do so. “Happy Christmas, mum.”

“Next stop, Tibora,” The Doctor said when everyone was aboard the TARDIS again. “Apparently Brenda’s family are getting used to having a Time Lord as an in-law and they’re not quite so obeisant these days, but Mrs Freeman will have cooked enough food for an army, so we’ll be well fed again.”

That was a happy prospect, as was landing on the peaceful former Gallifreyan dominion world where Davie Campbell’s in-laws lived. The TARDIS materialised by the crystal clear lake that perfectly reflected the image of a snow-covered dormant volcano. The Freeman house was a substantial log-built villa nestled beneath the mountain.

They were greeted warmly as ever, and Brenda’s mother was delighted by the prospect of The Doctor and his kin joining them for their Winter Festival meal.

“The Tiborans look like humans, but they are not related to the Earth-descended colonists of other planets in the sector,” Davie explained to his parents. “They don’t have Christmas as it is celebrated on those worlds, but the Winter Festival marks the mid-point when the days begin to lengthen again.”

“Halfway out of the dark,” The Doctor said. “Yes, there are variations of such solstice festivals on countless worlds. All beings who depend on light and warmth for survival celebrate the turn towards spring. On Earth, Christmas replaced the solstice for many people, but the basic principle is the same.”

Whatever the origins of the Winter Festival on Tibora it looked and felt very much like Christmas. The Freeman home was decorated with a mixture of natural greenery and sparkling artificial ornaments and lights. The dining table was festively decorated with floating candles in a crystal bowl as the centrepiece and flowers and greenery all around. The festive meal consisted of three different roast meats, pies, poached salmon, vegetables and potatoes and a huge pink and yellow layered mousse-like dessert that melted in the mouth after the heaviness of the main course. Among the guests, Davie’s young apprentice, Pip, almost fainted at the sight of so much food in one place after a lifetime of hunger. Mrs Freeman made sure his plate was always full. Her son, Phillip, did his best to emulate his guest. Sebastian and Mark, sitting on cushions to raise them up to the table ate their child-size portions of everything and chattered away to each other in a toddler language of their own. The adults toasted each other with locally made wine and exchanged blessings for the year to come.

As the sun went down on the mid-winter day there was a ceremony to be observed. It took place outside. Each member of the family, whether related by blood, marriage or apprenticeship, put on warm clothes and carried a small glass lantern with a candle fixed inside – all except Marcus Freeman who carried a larger lantern that was already lit.

The extended family walked down to the edge of the lake in the light of the lantern carried by the head of the household. There, everyone gathered in a circle around Marcus. He held his lantern high and recited a small prayer in Tiboran.

“In the darkness let the light of love shine out from this family to all our neighbours and kin.”

Then he lit his wife’s lantern from he larger one, and she turned to her daughter, Brenda, to light her lantern. She turned to her brother, and to Pip, and then to her husband. He lit his mother’s lantern and she turned to her husband and then her grandfather, who lit Rose’s lantern. Finally the two youngest of the family, the little boys, held up their own lanterns and were satisfied when they, too, received the light of love. Their candles were cold burning safety ones that would not hurt them or set light to anything else if they were dropped, but in all other ways they were the same as the lanterns the adults carried.

Mr Freeman turned and looked across the crystal lake and began to sing a gentle song about light, love and family. His wife and children joined him and so did the others as they caught the tune and the simple, repeated words.

All around the lake, lanterns were lit by other families and their clusters of light could be seen. Above, on the mountain, a beacon was lit, and in the distance an answering beacon sprang up on top of the next mountain. Across Tibora the light was carried. In other rural communities families lit their lanterns. In towns and cities people came out of their houses and lit their lanterns and sang the Song of the Light with their neighbours or gathered in the public square to share the light with strangers and visitors to their world.

All over Tibora the light of love was lit and shared on their Mid-Winter night.

Susan Campbell clutched her grown up son’s hand and felt glad to have shared this experience with him.

David Campbell looked across the dark lake and remembered his long lost home in Scotland with less sorrow and bitterness than the memory usually came with.

When the song ended, at last, Mrs Freeman gently reminded her husband that it was cold outside and mentioned hot spiced coffee and milky cocoa for the little ones waiting in the kitchen.

“Next year, Mr and Mrs Freeman should come to visit us,” Susan told her son when she was ready to leave the next morning. “I would be happy to welcome them.”

“The alterations to the clubhouse will be done by then. You can ALL be my guests,” Davie answered. “Brenda will fall over herself to make it the best Christmas dinner in the universe.”

“I might have got used to you having a house of your own by then,” Susan admitted. “How did you get so grown up so quickly?”

“By living outside my timeline an awful lot,” Davie replied, feeling keenly the way the age gap between himself and his brother had increased every year since they turned eighteen together. “But don’t worry, mum, I’ll always be around. Even if I’m on the other side of the galaxy, I’ll be around for you.”

“That’s all I need to know,” Susan told him. “Try to get home for New Year, though. It will be nice to see you and Chris in the same room together for a change.”

“We’ll be there, both of us,” Davie assured her.

Susan was happy as she stepped into the TARDIS. So was David. He had found a soul mate in Marcus Freeman, with whom he shared a passion for growing things and the countryside.

“We should visit again,” he said as they journeyed away from Tibora. “It’s a good place. Not at all like Scotland, but I could enjoy spending some time in that fresh air.”

“Now you know where to spend your summer holidays,” The Doctor said to them. “Meanwhile, a change of clothing is required for our last stopover. Susan, you’ll love it. For the men, it is a little less endearing.”

The gowns of the mid fifteenth century were, as The Doctor had noted to his daughter, very much like the formal ladies gowns of his native Gallifrey. Susan, who only had a very limited memory of the grown up women of her world nevertheless found dressing in fine embroidered silks and satins with sculpted bodice and high collar exciting. So did Rose. Both of them got ready, though, to laugh when they saw their husbands in the doublet and hose of the Tudor era. They were very fine doublets of expensive materials and just as much embroidery as the ladies’ gowns, but there was no getting over how embarrassing hose was to men who were used to wearing trousers.

“At least you don’t have to wear a corset,” Susan told her husband. “You look very fine. Sukie will be astonished.”

“She will fall over laughing,” David protested. But there was nothing else he could wear if he was to pass as a gentleman visitor to Salmesbury Hall in Lancashire in the era his daughter had chosen to spend Christmas.

They were admitted to the hall by a servant and welcomed gladly by the master and mistress – Christopher and Isobel Southworth – who invited them to join the dancing at once.

When they saw the dancing going on in the Great Hall they were not so sure they could. David certainly felt his bones ache just looking at the way the young men and women were whirling about, the men lifting their ladies waist high every dozen steps or so.

“Good heavens!” he exclaimed. “That’s Sukie!” He almost didn’t recognise his own daughter in a dress of plum satin with a scarlet sash. The handsome youth in a doublet of scarlet with plum sash who matched her was Earl, her twenty-sixth century boyfriend. They both danced as if they were born in this era and had taken lessons from a Hugenot dance master. Her father would have been doubly surprised to find out that they had done just that on several weekends away from home.

Vicki was dancing, too. Her dress was made from a length of spun gold fabric she had bought on another planet and made up by a seamstress in the local market town of Preston. She had a sash and collar of royal blue. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, was in the reverse colours. He didn’t dance with quite the same precise footwork as Earl, but he made up for that by his strength when he lifted her higher than any other maiden in the Hall.

“It’s called La Volta,” Rose explained. “The Doctor and I used to dance it in Renaissance Paris, when we were first married.”

“Are you implying that we are incapable of dancing it now?” The Doctor asked, grasping his wife by the hand and sweeping her into the mix. She was nearly thirty, now, and had given birth to five children, but in that sculpted bodice over firm corsetry he could span her waist with his hands. He did so before he lifted her high and brought her back down on the right step to keep in time with the music.

La Volta was followed by a dance called a Pavan, a much gentler, more refined processional dance. Susan touched her husband’s forehead and subtly transmitted to his Human mind the steps of that dance which very closely resembled one danced in Gallifreyan halls on formal occasions. They joined in the procession moving four steps down the long hall and three back before turning to each other and bowing.

After the Pavan came the Branle, another dance best suited to young people. Many of the older couples, and Isobel Southworth who was clearly in a state of pregnancy and the only woman not wearing a corset, sat out this one. The Doctor refused to be classed as ‘older’ and Rose was happy to join him. The Branle was the first Renaissance dance he had ever taught her, and she was not going to be left out of the fun.

After that they sought refreshment. A flagon of cool wine was available as well as mead and the best Lancashire ale – a strong brew best left to the countrymen of Lancashire who had the stomach for it. Rose and Susan sipped the sweet wine. David tried a tankard of mead, though he drank it much more slowly than other men.

Sukie and Vicki drank wine, too. The Doctor and David both disapproved of that, but there were few drinks that were safe to drink in a time before pasteurised milk and tap water.

“We’re careful about it,” Sukie assured her father. “Don’t worry. There are oranges and pomegranates over there in a basket. We’ll eat some of those if we’re REALLY thirsty.”

Earl drank a tankard of the strong ale in two long draughts, but not only was he part Time Lord, but he was from Lancashire. It had little effect on his constitution. Jimmy drank mead very slowly and tried not to let the other men notice that he was not fond of strong drink.

“You look beautiful, Sukie,” David told his daughter. “Absolutely beautiful. And… VERY grown up. I feel so OLD looking at you.”

“Come and dance again, dad,” Sukie told him. “It’s a Bassadance, a slow one. I’ll show you how. It’ll make you feel young.”

Sukie used the same Time Lord trick that her mother had used to implant the steps of the dance in her father’s mind. He danced happily with her. The Doctor took Rose in hand while Vicki was led onto the floor by Christopher Southworth, master of the house.

When a more lively tune struck up, The Doctor swapped partners with a wide smile. Rose danced with the master of the house while he bowed low to his very grown up looking daughter in her fine gown and swept her into the Galliard, a dance involving the very precise placing of hands and feet. Very few of the guests danced it properly. The Doctor and Vicki were among those few. Many of those who had retired to the edge of the dance floor watched them in admiration.

“If we were on Gallifrey in my great-great-great grandfather’s time, you would have a coming of age ball, where I would dance a Chifanso with you. It is a dance of offering. I would dance you around the hall, bowing to each unmarried man in attendance and offer a single glove from your hand to him. He would have to refuse the glove during the Chifanso but afterwards, it would be for you to give it to whichever man you chose to dance with next.”

“That sounds like a charming tradition, but I’m rather glad I just chose Jimmy in the ordinary Human way.”

“So am I, my little love,” The Doctor assured her. “And I shall give you back to him in a minute. But I wanted this one chance to be with possibly the most beautiful woman in the whole room.”

“Possibly?” Vicki laughed and arched her eyebrows.

“Well, your mother is here, too.”

Vicki laughed again as the dance came to an end and Jimmy timorously came forward to take her for a spirited tune called a Saltarello which involved the man leaping in the air and coming down on one foot after the other. Earl was by far the most proficient at that dance, but Jimmy did his best to emulate him because Vicki loved to dance and he loved to make her happy.

“They are young ladies, now, not girls,” Susan admitted as she took one of the oranges that Sir Christopher had imported from Spain at great expense and peeled it with a small, sharp knife. She shared it with Rose who appreciated its sweet freshness.

“Yes,” Rose said with a sigh. “There’s no point in pretending otherwise. Goodness knows… in this time they’d both be married with children of their own at sixteen. At least we have a few more years before we reach that point.” She laughed ironically. “I don’t think I’m ready to be a GRANNY for quite a while.”

“I’ve already crossed that bridge twice,” Susan reminded her. “But I’m happy to wait a little longer for Sukie to present me with a grandchild. Let’s not dwell on those thoughts too much. I’m enjoying this party – although I WILL be glad to get out of this corset.”

“Me, too, though I am having a good time. We needed this, both of us. A chance to share the worlds our kids are living in when they’re away from us.”

“A chance to share their idea of Christmas,” Susan added. “No wonder our family gathering at home doesn’t interest any of them. Bonfires and eclipses, Winter Festivals, grand balls. There’s just too much else going on for them to stay still.”

They would have said more, but their husbands drew them back into the dancing. Much later, deep into the night, when the ale barrel was far lower and the wine was down to the dregs, the roast boar a pile of bones with scraps of meat left on it, the music came to a stop and the dancing ceased. People settled down to rest for a few hours, to clear their heads of the food and drink before the solemnity of the morning church service.

That was the quiet time when David and Susan talked to Sukie and resolved the problems that lay between them, and Rose and The Doctor spent quality time with their daughter.

“I suppose you’re going home in the morning,” Vicki said to her parents.

“We’ll stay for the service, that’s only polite,” The Doctor said. “Then we’ll be off.”

“The Southworth’s are holding Christmas until Twelfth Night. A ball every evening. I’ve got twelve gowns.”

“I was hoping you would be back home for New Year, at least,” Rose told her. “Twelfth Night is January 6th.”

“That didn’t matter back in this time. New Year isn’t the First of January, it’s March twenty-fifth.”

“It matters to us,” The Doctor told her. “But I’m prepared to give way just this once. You can stay the full twelve days of Christmas and return for New Year. You can have the extra days to wear all those other gowns.”

“Thank you, daddy,” Vicki said, with a wide smile.

“Just this once, mind,” he warned. “You know the rule, any other time.”

“Yes, daddy.” For a moment there was something of the little girl in Vicki, then she was the young woman who danced La Volta and the Galliard with her young man again. She had become a grown up even if she did still call her father ‘daddy’.

Sukie had reached the same consensus with her father and when it was time to part in the crisp, cold, Christmas morning there were contented hugs and smiles all around. Susan and David stepped into the TARDIS satisfied that all was well between them and their youngest child. The Doctor and Rose, likewise.

“Back to our own century,” The Doctor said. “We’ll get to our own beds for a few hours. In the morning we still have three little ones who want to destroy the ballroom floor again and two older ones who will want me to take them up Primrose Hill in the TARDIS so that they can try out the sledges that we bought them for Christmas.”

“And at some point we might feel hungry for a Boxing Day dinner,” Rose added. “Though after three different feasts on three different planets I wonder if I’ll ever want to eat again.”

“Turkey sandwiches until New Year. That’s a problem even a Time Lord can’t do anything about,” The Doctor noted sagely.