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

Jo knew there wouldn’t be another dress like hers at the U.N.I.T. regimental Christmas dinner and ball. Nobody else, not even the Brigadier’s fiancée, would have a dress given to her by the King of Peladon. It was an absolutely divine ballgown in what was called the ‘Empire’ style on Earth, with real gold thread in the embroidered bodice and shot through the fabric of the flowing skirt. With her hair and eye make-up done in the style of the ancient Atlantean women she knew she looked thoroughly unique.

The Doctor had smiled warmly when he saw her ensemble and told her she was ‘very pretty’. From him, that was fulsome praise. He never usually noticed any flesh and blood woman. The TARDIS and Bessie, his car, were the two females in his life.

He looked thoroughly dashing in a tuxedo and black bow tie. Of course his clothes were always suave, but he clearly knew how to wear formal clothes. When he called at her flat and escorted her to the waiting car, she felt like a real VIP.

Fortunately for her efforts with her clothes they were not travelling in Bessie tonight. A limousine driven by a corporal in best parade uniform had been provided for the special civilian guests of the Brigadier.

“I wonder what Mike Yates will be wearing,” she considered as she sat back in the comfortable seat.

“Dress uniform, of course,” The Doctor replied. “They will all be in dress uniform, looking magnificent.”

“Yes, of course,” Jo said, not wanting to admit that she had no idea what dress uniforms looked like. This was the first time she had attended something like this.

“I feel a little nervous, she admitted. “I know it’s silly. After all, I’ve met the twenty-sixth century president of Earth and the king of Peladon, but seeing the Brig and Mike, and even Sergeant Benton at a formal regimental dinner-dance is… a bit frightening. I hope I don’t do anything silly.”

“Just be yourself,” The Doctor told her.

“That’s the problem,” she answered. “Me, myself… clumsy, dippy, hopeless Jo….”

“Is adored by all of them, from the Brigadier himself down, so don’t you worry.”

“A formal banquet. I won’t even know which fork to use….”

“I do,” The Doctor assured her. “Just watch me. And remember, when we do the loyal toast, we don’t clink glasses, just hold them up around eye level.”

Jo took in that very important detail and worried a little more about protocol and etiquette, while wondering how and when The Doctor learnt these things. Did they have formal banquets with loyal toasts on his world? Who did they toast? Did they have a king or queen of Time Lords or a President?

The car turned in through a wide gateway. The banquet wasn’t being held at U.N.I.T. headquarters but at a brand spanking new country hotel a few miles outside of town. It was an ultra-modern affair, all shining glass and steel with air-conditioning and all mod-cons. It hadn’t started taking in overnight guests, yet, but it had opened its dining suites and ballroom for Christmas bookings.

Jo laughed softly. On the wide lawn in front of the hotel was a row of snowmen, at least twenty of them. They almost looked like a line of soldiers standing to attention. A new fall of snow had come down since they were built and they stood in a pristine landscape.

At the entrance to the hotel, real soldiers were standing to attention, an honour guard in smart red and black with silver ceremonial swords at their sides. One of them came to open the limousine door and Jo did her best to get out gracefully, without tripping over the hem of her gown. The soldier saluted her. She wondered what she ought to do in return.

“Good evening, miss,” he said.

“Good evening, corporal,” she answered, recognising his rank from the sleeve of his red tunic. The Doctor climbed out of the car and stood as the corporal saluted him. He nodded his head in recognition of the salute then he took Jo’s arm. It felt grand walking past the soldiers into the warmth of the hotel foyer. She felt a little sorry for them having to stand out there for all of the guests and wondered if there would be a hot drink for them afterwards.

“When they’re done they can join the junior ranks party in the Leinster room,” The Doctor told her as they took off their coats and gave them to the steward in pristine white jacket and pressed black trousers who escorted them to the reception room of the Connaught Suite. As they entered another steward with the rank of corporal announced them as “The Doctor and Miss Josephine Grant.”

The nervousness came back to her as a tray of sherry glasses was held in front of her invitingly. She and The Doctor both took a glass. She sipped it as she watched the Brigadier and his fiancée come through the sea of officers and their companions to greet them. Lethbridge-Stewart looked absolutely breathtaking in his formal dress uniform. As a Scotsman, of course, he was in a kilt, complete with sporran and knee high socks with a silver dirk tucked into the top. He had a red tunic with black lapels over a waistcoat and crisp white shirt and black bow tie. The tunic was decorated with so much gold braiding he might have been a Christmas tree somebody wanted to decorate. The U.N.I.T. badge in silver was on both lapels. The outfit was completed by a ceremonial sword in a scabbard.

He almost outdid the lady at his side who wore a dress of mid-blue voile with a sash in the Stewart tartan to match his kilt.

“Jo, Doctor,” The Brigadier said effusively. “May I introduce my fiancée, Doris Courtney. Doris, this is The Doctor and Josephine Grant.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you both,” Doris answered, shaking hands with them. “Alistair talks about you all the time, Doctor. He says there is nobody he disagrees with so often for whom he has so much respect.”

“I shall take that as a compliment,” The Doctor replied. “And may I say I am delighted to meet the lady The Brigadier talks of frequently.”

That was a very slight lie. The Doctor recalled him mentioning Doris on only two occasions, but that wasn’t because of any lack of affection for her, rather that he didn’t talk about personal matters on duty and The Doctor’s relationship with him was generally in the line of duty.

Mike Yates approached. Jo watched him carefully. He looked magnificent, too. The short red jacket and high waisted trousers with a red stripe down the side accentuated his slim figure. He wore a cummerbund rather than a waistcoat. His captain’s pips adorned the shoulder of his jacket and, of course, the Unit badge on the lapels. He, too, had a sword to complete the dress uniform. Jo wondered if it would be a little cumbersome when they sat down to dinner, to say nothing of dancing afterwards.

He smiled widely at Jo who excused herself from The Doctor and the Brigadier and let him take her to the velvet curtained window to talk quietly. She glanced outside and noticed that it was snowing again. The lines of snowmen were just visible through the new fall. She hoped the honour guard had retreated to their own party by now.

“Are you not with anyone?” Jo asked Mike hopefully. “Surely you have plenty of girlfriends you could ask to the ball.”

“I came with Captain Ashton,” he answered. Jo was puzzled until he pointed out Captain Ashton – first name Louise. She was wearing the same tunic as the men but with a long black skirt, flared enough for walking and dancing, and a thin shoe-lace style tie at the throat of her white blouse. She was chatting happily to a handsome young Major whose tunic had proportionally more of the gold braiding than Mike’s, but less than the Brigadier’s. “I hoped to get a chance to nab you, instead. You look lovely in that dress.”

“Thank you,” Jo answered, happy to be nabbed but unaccustomed to compliments about her clothes from men in full dress uniform. “You… don’t look so bad yourself. Very dashing, like something out of one of those old Technicolour films – The Charge of The Light Brigade or something.”

Mike smiled wryly and reminded her that everyone died in that film, and in the real battle.

“That’s why the old British Thin Red Line is only at the dinner table now,” he added. “Khaki is better for battle.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Jo said, wondering if that had been a faux pas. Was it a good idea to remind soldiers of what a dangerous job they do at a social occasion?

She was saved from worrying about that by the head steward announcing that dinner was served. The guests formed pairs again. Jo looked around and noted that Mike’s friend was linking arms with her dashing Major. The Doctor was with the Brigadier and Doris and a woman who wore the dress uniform of the Royal Alexander Nursing Corps and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel within that regiment. The Doctor took her arm, glancing towards Jo and giving her a reassuring smile. It was quite all right for Mike to escort her into the dining room. She took his arm proudly. Mike was a ‘dish’ at any time, but he was even more so tonight and she felt on top of the world walking beside him.

The dining room looked magnificent. The table was covered in white linen with silver cutlery, fine china and sparkling crystal glassware at each place setting. There were seasonal flowers arranged down the middle of the table and holly and ivy wreathed around the soft beige walls.

Places had been worked out by a protocol officer, of course. The Brigadier was at the head of the table with Doris at his side. The Doctor was by his other side, with the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Nursing Corps beside him. Jo found herself seated beside Doris with Captain Yates at her side, then Captain Ashton and her Major. The other officers and their invited guests, ladies in ballgowns, and two men in tuxedos who accompanied female officers usually seen in the communications room, found their places in turn.

Everyone stood behind their chairs, of course. Jo very nearly went to sit before noticing what everyone else was doing. When they were all in their places there was a bugle fanfare and then a lone bagpiper playing a tune that Mike could have told her was called ‘Escort to the Colours’ if it would not have been inappropriate to speak at that moment. The honour guard slowly proceeded down either side of the table, one carrying the Union Flag, and the other the regimental flag, white with the familiar round symbol in the centre. The two flags were reverently placed in holders behind The Brigadier’s place at the head of the table before the honour guard retreated, presumably to return to the ranks party.

The bagpiper remained and played God Save The Queen, then a small army of stewards stepped forward to pour wine for everyone. The Brigadier raised his glass.

“To The Queen,” he said.

“The Queen,” responded the whole company, not clinking their glasses but holding them at eye level.

“To the men and women of U.N.I.T.,” he added.

“U.N.I.T.,” they responded.

“To absent friends,” The Brigadier continued in a more solemn tone. The response was heartfelt. U.N.I.T. was a new regiment, but the fight against alien invading forces had taken its toll. That moment of reflection over, though, they sat and the stewards stepped forward again to serve the first course of the banquet. Cheerful conversation resumed. Mike easily led the conversation within the group closest to her. His stories of army life amused the ladies and struck a chord with his fellow officers.

Jo couldn’t quite hear what The Doctor was talking to The Brigadier about, but their mood could certainly be described as convivial. She was glad. They were so often at odds with each other. The Doctor thought as a scientist and The Brigadier thought as a soldier. Their methods and their desired results were often very different. But despite all, they were firm friends and loyal allies, and it was good that they had this time to relax and enjoy themselves and not worry about danger, about Autons and Daleks, Axons or blob monsters from other dimensions for a little while.

Jo forgot to worry about using the right fork. Even if she was wrong occasionally nobody noticed, and nobody cared. They were having a pleasant time in good company. The food was delicious, each course served beautifully. She wasn’t entirely sure what some of the delicacies actually were, but they tasted nice.

And as much as she enjoyed the meal Jo was really looking forward to the dancing afterwards. She hoped Mike would be her partner. She was sure he wanted to be. That was why he had escorted the other Captain who was interested in somebody else, so that he would be free to be with her.

Before they could dance, The Brigadier made a speech. It wasn’t long, and there were some jokes that sent a ripple of laughter around the table, but Jo probably wasn’t the only one feeling impatient to move, and it perhaps wasn’t received as well as it might have been.

Finally, The Brigadier wished everyone a happy Christmas and invited them to move into the ballroom for the continuation of their celebratory evening. He took Doris’s hand and led the informal procession through the double doors from the dining room into the ballroom.

It was a modern room, of course, in the newly built hotel. But it was beautiful all the same. Electric chandeliers shaped like upside down flying saucers hung from the ceiling, illuminating a honey-coloured pine floor and walls of mustard-yellow. One wall was entirely glass with floor to ceiling windows hung with gold-brown curtains. They were open to the winter wonderland of snow-covered lawn outside that completed the Christmas theme of this party.

“Is it me or are there even more snowmen out there?” Jo asked. “Or are they closer?”

“This room is at a different angle to the other,” Mike told her. “That’s why they look a bit different. It must have been kids, building them this afternoon, before it got dark.”

Four neatly uniformed soldiers and a young woman in a pretty red ballgown made up the live band for the music. They struck up a tune and The Brigadier and Doris led the first dance. The Doctor took the nurse onto the floor and looked very suave and dashing about it. Jo felt Mike’s hand over hers and the next moment she was dancing in his arms. She felt fantastic. Mike looked so handsome and there was a way he smiled when he looked at her as if she was the most beautiful woman in the room.

He wasn’t the only man she danced with. The Doctor claimed her twice. The Brigadier, too. Even Sergeant Benton shyly asked her to accompany him onto the floor.

But Mike came back to her several times, and she was pleased about that.

“Do you want to take a breather?” he asked after one set had finished. He drew her towards the windows. There was a foot or two of space between the glass and the curtains. It made a sort of alcove where a degree of privacy might be claimed. Jo knew he was going to try to kiss her. She liked the idea very much.

But before he could something distracted her attention. She screamed with fright. The sound made other people turn and look at the windows. Other women screamed, too. The band stopped playing. The whole crowd turned to look at the floor length plate glass windows that stretched the full length of the ballroom.

There were snowmen outside, at least thirty, maybe as many as fifty, in a row, pressed right up against the glass, their coal black eyes looking in at them.

Really looking. They were made of coal, there was no doubt about that. Yet the black eyes seemed alive and alert. They really were looking at everyone inside the ballroom.

Then the double doors crashed open. Two corporals in their number two uniforms that they were wearing for their party in the Leinster Room half-carried a man in a brown suit. His face was so pale it was almost as white as his shirt collar. His hair was covered in ice. He was breathing hard, shivering with extreme cold.

The Brigadier and The Doctor were neck and neck reaching the man as his rescuers placed him on a comfortable chair. The Doctor touched his forehead and closed his eyes. Warmth radiated from his hand into the stricken man, reviving him a little. A glass of brandy did the rest.

“He’s the night manager,” one of the corporals explained. “Mr Phibsborough. He was on reception.”

“They were right up to the main door,” the other tried to explain. “He went to clear them away. He kicked two of them down and the others attacked him.”

“Who attacked him?” The Brigadier asked.

“Them… the snowmen,” the corporal answered, pointing to the window where the coal-black eyes looked in at them, still. “They pelted him with snowballs…. Hundreds of snowballs. We just managed to drag him back inside.”

“Snowmen did this?” The Brigadier had seen just about everything by now. From Yetis in the underground through Cybermen and Silurians he had done his duty, defending the Human race from non-Human threats.

But snowmen?

His hand reached for his waist where he carried a side-arm when on duty, but this was his dress uniform. He had no weapon other than the ornamental sword. There were as many as three hundred soldiers in the hotel – ranks and officers, and between them there were only a dozen or so guns.

He drew his sword anyway, and moved to the windows. They would open, of course. They constituted a fire exit from the ballroom. He pushed down on the metal bar that released the lock and pushed the glass door outwards. The snowmen directly behind were pushed over. A third one was decapitated by his sword. He stepped out and swung wide, taking three more out.

But before his eyes they reconstituted themselves again, bigger this time. One of them was almost as tall as he was, and he was certain the coal-black eyes glowed like embers momentarily.

“Brigadier, come back inside,” Jo called out to him, fearfully.

“Alistair, I think she’s right,” Doris added. “Come back in. It’s far too dangerous.”

“Sir….” Mike Yates stepped close to the open glass door and reached The Brigadier just as the snowmen closed in on him. He pulled him back inside while Benton and Captain Ashton closed the window. He was covered in snow crystals but nowhere near as badly affected as the manager had been.

“We’re trapped.” The message went around the room in a heartbeat. Dismayed exclamations rose with the tension and fear that followed The Brigadier’s retreat.

“That’s enough,” The Brigadier barked suddenly, quietening the men and women under his command at once and stunning their wives and partners and dinner guests with the command in his voice. “We are not a works outing, here. We are soldiers of Her Majesty’s Forces. We are trained to deal with exactly this kind of crisis, and deal with it quietly, calmly, and with dignity. Sergeant Benton, there are civilians within this building, kitchen staff and others. Bring them all here. Captain Yates, tell the ranks to join us, too.”

“With respect sir,” Mike Yates said. “Might I suggest that the civilians would be safer in the dining room? There is only one window and that can be barricaded. We can put men on the doors and protect them.”

The Brigadier nodded. He was always ready to hear good ideas from his men and that was one of them. They were besieged by the oddest enemy, yet, and there were innocent people who had to be protected.

“Doris,” he said quietly as Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton went to carry out their orders. “Will you bring all of the women into the dining room?”

“Yes, Alistair,” she answered. Her voice trembled slightly. She was as frightened as anyone else, but she was engaged to a Brigadier. It was up to her to rise to the occasion. She steadied herself as she called the wives and girlfriends of officers by name and urged them to come into the other room with her. The men whose wives and girlfriends were serving officers went with them. For them it was a curious role reversal, but a civilian was a civilian and The Brigadier was firm about it.

“Doctor….” Jo hovered by his side, watching him wave the sonic screwdriver slowly across the window, measuring goodness knows what with it. “Doctor, should I stay with you?”

The Doctor looked at her as if surprised she was still there.

“You should have gone with Doris,” he told her. “You ARE a civilian, and a woman.”

Jo fixed a determined glare on him.

“I’m not a civilian. I’m a trained spy attached to U.N.I.T. and being a woman has nothing to do with it. Captain Ashton and Lieutenant-Colonel Nurse Anderson are both women in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Yes, they are,” The Doctor acknowledged. “Jo, Doris is very scared. She didn’t expect Lethbridge-Stewart’s work to impinge on her own life like this. The same is true of the other wives and girlfriends. They weren’t ready for this. The best thing you could do right now is help reassure them.”

“Doctor….” Jo sighed. This wasn’t the time or place for a Women’s Lib discussion. Besides, she wasn’t at all sure what she COULD do to help The Doctor at this time. Being the only woman who had experienced alien invasions and strange phenomenon was her most useful asset just now. “All right, but just you be careful. All of you be careful.”

She followed the last of the civilians into the dining room. Benton had brought the kitchen and reception staff to join them. There weren’t as many of them as earlier. The chef and his assistants had all left an hour ago. Those remaining were mostly washing up or preparing stocks and vegetables for tomorrow’s cooking. They were frightened, of course, especially when they saw Benton and some of the men barricading the window with tables and chairs and the men on sentry duty at the door.

“It’s going to be all right,” Jo told everyone. “The Doctor is working on something, and The Brigadier is a very fine officer. He’ll know what to do if the worst comes to the worst.”

“I think the worst HAS come,” said a pale faced woman in a pink dress who had been dancing with a young lieutenant most of the evening. “Why are snowmen attacking us?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Jo admitted. “But trust The Doctor and The Brigadier. They’ll make it all right.”

She knew they would.

They always had before.

“Yes,” Doris said in a quiet voice. “Yes, we can trust them.”

“They’re REAL snowmen,” The Doctor confirmed. “They’re made of compacted crystals of water that has fallen through Earth’s atmosphere, picking up a trace of pollution on the way, but otherwise nothing more.”

“Then how do they move? Why are they attacking us?” The Brigadier asked. “And how can we fight back?”

The Doctor sighed. The first two questions were just what he would have asked. How and why?

The Brigadier was a soldier. He asked how to fight them.

The Doctor sighed because he didn’t have an answer to any of the questions.

“It is possible that some kind of force or entity is animating them remotely,” he said, though it was only guesswork.

“Snowmen?” Mike Yates looked closely at the dark eyes in white faces looking back at him. He shivered involuntarily. “Of all the things that could attack us, I never thought of snowmen as dangerous. They’re innocent things – built by children. It’s a cruel kind of thing to have to fight.”

“If it comes to it, that’s what we’ll do,” The Brigadier told him. “Innocent looking or not, if lives are at risk, Human lives, we have a duty to defend them against an alien menace. If it is alien… or if it is anything else.”

He was thinking of the Silurians, not an alien species but one that belonged on Earth just as much as humans did, who, if The Doctor was to be believed might even have a prior claim on the planet.

Either way, The Brigadier’s duty was clear. Human life had to be protected, especially when the lives at stake included Doris and any number of their friends.

“Sir,” Captain Ashton’s voice drew him out of his deliberations. “How strong do you think the windows are?”

“I should think they’re strong enough,” he answered. “Building standards are strict these days. Why?”

“I was wondering if they could break through,” she replied. “They seem to be pressing against them very hard.”

The Brigadier looked at the snowmen closing in outside, then at the floor to ceiling windows. Was it his imagination or were they bulging inwards?

“Everyone get away from the windows,” he called out. “Get right back towards the other wall.”

Nobody other than The Doctor was getting close to the windows anyway. Even battle-hardened officers were wary of the sinister motives of the not-so-innocent snowmen. They pressed even further away on The Brigadier’s instructions.

The Doctor took no notice of his orders. There was nothing unusual about that. The Doctor was fond of reminding The Brigadier that he was not one of his subordinates. Even so, this looked like far too much risk. He was doing exactly the opposite of moving away from the windows. Instead he was pressing his hands against them, as if he was ‘touching’ the snowmen through the glass.

“Come away, man,” The Brigadier called out. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I don’t get any sense of malice from them,” The Doctor said without looking around. “They’re not driven by any desire to hurt anyone. They fought back when they were attacked… but not with deadly force. The manager is alive. So are you, Brigadier. I don’t think they meant harm.”

“Whether they mean it or not if they break that window, you’ll be cut to ribbons, man. Come away.”

The Doctor finally looked around. Lethbridge-Stewart was standing in the middle of the floor resolutely. Behind him, stretched the length of the ballroom, was that famous thin red line of British military history. Soldiers in their best uniforms, expecting nothing more dangerous than a well-matured brandy, now stood with ceremonial swords held in steady hands, ready to charge at the first command, or to hold the ballroom to the last man against the advancing enemy.

The Brigadier hadn’t told them to do that. It had been their own instinct to form that line – the instinct of soldiers, of men and women of courage and honour.

The Doctor recognised that in all of them and felt a surge of pride in that courage and honour. But even so, their militancy dismayed him, too. They reacted too quickly to anything that looked like a threat with their own show of force.

He always looked for the peaceful solution first – as long as the military gave him a chance. He turned back to the window and pressed his hands firmly against it, concentrating hard on communicating with the snowmen, reaching out for the intelligence he thought he could sense beyond the glass.

Then he touched it. He read the minds of the alien visitors and he laughed softly. What a mistake had been made on both sides.

“It’s all right,” he said out loud, still laughing. “There will be no need for a last stand here. This is a case of mistaken identity and missed communications, that’s all. They don’t mean any harm.”

“So you said before,” The Brigadier responded. “But they attacked the manager, and me….”

“Nobody ever died from a snowball fight,” The Doctor told him. “That was just a warning to you. As I said, missed communications, mistaken identity. Captain Yates, Captain Ashton, Major Shilburn, will you open all of these windows. Somebody go to the dining room and ask Benton to do the same in there. Go to the front entrance and open that, too. Let them come in.”

For a long moment even Captain Yates who ought to have known to trust him after so many desperate missions, hesitated. He looked from The Doctor to The Brigadier who would have the final sanction on those apparently lunatic orders.

“Do as he says,” Lethbridge-Stewart said. “The Doctor knows what he’s doing… I hope.”

Mike and the others stepped towards the windows and operated the push down bars that opened sections of glass. A cold blast of air swept in, and so did the snowmen. More came through the main entrance from reception. The door to the dining room opened and four of the snowmen came in that way, followed by Sergeant Benton holding Jo and Doris by the hands. They all looked a little worried, but also excited and intrigued by what was happening.

“Shouldn’t they start to melt?” Doris asked in a whisper that nevertheless carried across the ballroom since everyone else was deadly quiet.

“I don’t know,” Jo responded. “Maybe….”

She stopped speaking and gasped in amazement – a gasp lost in the collective intake of breath by the whole crowd as the snowmen started to change – not melting, but glowing silvery-gold and stretching taller and thinner, taking on almost translucent, silver bodies with their own aura. They grouped together - fifty maybe a hundred of them - like a heavenly host hovering a few feet above the ground. That seemed perfectly right. How could anything so beautiful possibly walk on a mere floor?

“What are they, Doctor?” The Brigadier asked.

“They’re…. angels,” somebody said. It might have been Captain Ashton. She was staring at them with an utterly rapt expression. “Christmas angels.”

“Not quite,” The Doctor told her with a warm smile and a sparkle in his eyes. “They’re Melekler. They come from a world many millions of light years from here with a simple message which they would like to share with you all.”

He gestured towards the Melekler. They drew even closer together and began to sing. The harmony was perfect. The tune was at once familiar and unfamiliar. The words were unknown to anyone other than The Doctor, but everyone listening thought they understood the meaning all the same. It was the message that Christmas was supposed to be about – peace and goodwill to all mankind.

Around them soldiers put their swords back into their scabbards and watched in utter silence. Some of them – and not just the female officers – had tears in their eyes. There was something about the song that was so beautiful, so pure and unsullied by any unkind act or thought that it brought out such emotions.

The Brigadier wasn’t crying. He was made of sterner stuff than that. All the same, when Doris moved to his side and took his hand there was a look on his face for a brief moment that betrayed something – a hint of softness beneath his Old School British Stiff Upper Lip.

Jo had grasped Mike’s hand, but she let it go and ran to The Doctor. She let him put his arm around her shoulder and hug her tightly.

“Are they….” She began. “I mean… angels, seraphim, heavenly host… the ones that appeared to the shepherds…. Were they….”

The Doctor didn’t answer her. He simply smiled widely. She decided that meant ‘yes’.

When the song ended the feeling in her heart, in her soul, remained. By the expressions on all the faces around her, it was a mutual feeling. The Doctor let go of her and stepped towards the Melekler. He bowed to them very formally and they bowed to him in return.

“Thank you for gracing us with your presence, Lords,” he said. “We apologise for the misunderstanding.”

The Melekler glowed a little more brightly then floated towards the windows, out into the snow-covered world beyond where they rose higher into the suddenly clear and star-filled sky. For an eyeblink they were bright new stars in the constellations before they faded away, witnessed by those who stepped out through the doors to watch them go.

Jo was one of them. Mike Yates was at her side again. She felt his arm around her shoulder. He was smiling brightly.

“That’s the first alien species I’ve met that hasn’t tried to eliminate the Human race,” he said. “But why WERE they here and what was the idea with the snowmen?”

“They tried to make themselves look like humans,” The Doctor explained. “In order not to frighten you. But they got it wrong. They saw the snowmen built by children earlier in the day and mistook the shape for the dominant sentient species. They didn’t expect the fear and alarm or the behaviour of the people they had come to give their blessing to.”

“Us?” The Brigadier asked. “I mean… U.N.I.T….”

“The one force on Earth that is standing against the forces of darkness and oppression,” The Doctor explained. “They approve of your work, Alistair. They came to tell you that, but it all got a bit confused for a while.”

“They approve of our work?” The Brigadier looked bemused. He probably didn’t think he did, but he was hovering between a smile and a puzzled frown, leaning slightly more towards the smile because the Melekler song still played in his soul.

“Well, I’m glad it was all sorted out,” Jo said. “Do you think we can all go back inside now? It is freezing out here.”

“Yes,” The Brigadier declared. “Everyone inside. Stewards, drinks all round – champagne for everyone, ranks and officers alike. Let’s carry on with this party.”

The Brigadier’s word was final. Everyone moved back into the ballroom. The band took their places again and music resumed. Mike drew Jo onto the dance floor. Around them officers in red and rankers in their ordinary parade uniforms, as well as Mr Phibsborough the hotel manager and the kitchen staff, all enjoyed themselves. The windows were closed because it was too cold to leave them open, but the curtains were pulled back and almost every couple at some time came to stand and look up at the sky or at the snow-covered lawn where a row of ordinary snowmen still stood on guard.

During one of those moments Jo got the kiss she had hoped for, just to complete what was already an amazing Christmas party.