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

The Doctor materialised the TARDIS in the dark drawing room of an ordinary three-up-three-down house on the outskirts of Bolton. He stepped out very quietly and looked at the Christmas tree by the modern gas fire. There were gaily wrapped presents under the tree. A scent of unusual spices and the skins of citrus fruits hung in the air.

A small dog lay on the fireside rug. It looked up at the sound of the TARDIS and gave a soft growl of warning to The Doctor as he stepped out.

“There’s a good boy,” The Doctor whispered, scratching the dog’s ears gently. “Good old dog protecting your house. But I’m not here to steal anything. I’m just delivering a Christmas present for your master.”

The dog wagged its tail as if he understood The Doctor’s words. Perhaps he did in his own way.

The Doctor put the wrapped package he brought under the tree and petted the dog again before he stepped back into the TARDIS, his job done at this address.

In the master bedroom the man of the house heard the sound of the de-materialisation in his sleep. He sighed and dreamt of old times when that sound was almost a part of his daily life, when he was a part of U.N.I.T. and the sound of a police box disappearing was the least extraordinary thing that might happen to him.

The immaculate drawing room of a country villa in Berkshire set within a sizeable and well kept garden was The Doctor’s next stop. Again, a dog warned him against burglary before accepting that he was only there to deliver a gift on Christmas Eve.

The master of that house didn’t hear the TARDIS dematerialise. He would never admit it to anyone, but he was starting to go a little deaf in one ear.

His wife stirred in her sleep but fell back into a deeper sleep again.

A flat in the exclusive Docklands area of London was the next destination. The Christmas tree was a designer one with satin ribbons and hand-crafted baubles. The presents under it were all wrapped in gold and silver paper. The package The Doctor left was in green and red holly patterned paper. It stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb from the rest.

The Doctor left the TARDIS at the end of a quiet and surprisingly leafy street in busy Ealing and walked to the old house that stood in a large patch of garden. The other houses in the street were modern semi-detached houses that all looked alike, but one of The Doctor’s dearest friends lived in the one house that had survived the 1970s concept of town planning.

Another London house, this one in the East End, the streets The Doctor used to know so well when he and his granddaughter had lived a settled life there for a little while. This house used to be regarded as a slum, one of those two bedroom terraces with a front door opening onto the pavement and a tiny yard at the back with the outside toilet near the wall.

The street had been scheduled for demolition, but then somebody had the idea of refurbishing the houses instead, building extensions that made the yard even smaller but provided indoor bathrooms, installing central heating and double glazing but otherwise preserving the character of the late Victorian terraces.

Two old friends of The Doctor lived here. They had never had any children of their own so the small house near their place of work suited them fine even though they could afford something bigger in a ‘better’ neighbourhood.

He left their gifts under their tree and departed as quietly as he had come – which is to say as quietly as the TARDIS allowed.

The sound once familiar to the occupants of the bigger front bedroom woke them from their sleep. They looked at each other and wondered at first if they had dreamt it.

“If we did, we both dreamt the same thing,” said Barbara Chesterton, who was still known as Miss Wright at Coal Hill school where she had always worked apart from those two very strange, exciting and often perilous years they had spent in The Doctor’s company.

“Could it be….” Ian, her husband, replied. “After all this time?”

He got up from the bed and pulled on a dressing gown. Barbara was already looking for her slippers. They both crept down the stairs to the room most people in the East End called the front parlour but they always knew as the drawing room.

They were just in time to see the blue police box vanish into thin air. They looked at the place where it had been, then looked at each other.

“Why didn’t he stay to say hello?” Barbara asked. “I would have liked to see him again after all this time.”

“So would I,” Ian answered. “But you know what the old boy is like. He never does what you would expect.”

He glanced at the Christmas tree and immediately saw the two presents there that they hadn’t bought for each other. He picked them both up and passed the smaller one to Barbara.

“He dropped in like Father Christmas, with presents!” Barbara was amazed. “I suppose that explains why he didn’t stay. He wanted to vanish into the night in the same style.”

“The Doctor and Father Christmas,” Ian noted. “Two men everyone on planet Earth know they can trust.”

“Yes,” Barbara laughed. “I wonder what he brought. Do you think it’s all right to open his presents? It’s only five o’clock….”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until I know,” Ian admitted. He sat in an armchair and pulled at the wrapping paper that had been very neatly wrapped up. His present was squashy, like folded fabric of some sort. In the light of a standard lamp by the chair he pulled out a piece of brightly coloured silk-satin that proved to be a Chinese style shirt with a rounded collar and delicate embroidery all down the front.

He recognised it at once. He had worn that very shirt when they travelled with Marco Polo to the court of Kubla Khan.

“This silk is over a thousand years old,” he said. “Can you imagine what it would be worth in these days in such marvellous condition.”

“It would be hard to prove it IS that old,” Barbara pointed out. “I don’t expect The Doctor has had it for quite that long. But now you know what to wear for the mayor’s costume ball on New Year’s Eve. You’ll be going as a Chinese nobleman.”

“Yes.” Ian chuckled and watched as Barbara opened her present. There was a small lacquered wooden box inside the paper, and when she opened that she gasped in surprise. There was the beautiful gold bracelet of Yetaxa, the god worshipped by the Aztec tribe they had met on that fateful and not entirely successful trip into Earth history. Barbara had often thought about that time. Her efforts to change the way the tribe felt about Human sacrifice had failed in the very worst way, and they had only just escaped with their lives, but she remembered fondly the good, honest people she had met there and their too easily misunderstood and ultimately doomed culture.

“You’ll be going as an Aztec goddess, I suppose?” Ian said to her.

“Well, maybe just an Aztec lady, like Cameca, the gardener who The Doctor almost married.”

Remembering their friend’s dilemma about his accidental betrothal made them both laugh. Then Barbara went to the kitchen to make coffee and something approximating breakfast. They obviously weren’t going to sleep again, now. They would probably sit talking over those fantastic old times until dawn on this Christmas Day.

“Wherever he is, wherever he has been, wherever he’s going next,” Ian said, holding his coffee cup as if making a toast. “Good luck and Godspeed to him.”

“I agree,” Barbara said, holding her cup to his. “God bless The Doctor, and a Happy Christmas to him.”

Mike Yates woke just after eight o’clock. That was late for him. He was used to getting up at six and jogging before breakfast. His excuse for letting his healthy regime go this morning would not have pleased the old Brigadier. He and Tom had been out last night drinking heavily along with a group of friends. They had staggered home at gone two o’clock on Christmas morning and found their way to bed with a slightly slurred ‘Happy Christmas’ to each other.

His hangover wasn’t as bad as he deserved. A quick shower woke him up more fully and then he made coffee in the kitchen. Tom got up and followed his example while he was slicing a couple of grapefruits to call breakfast. They ate at the breakfast bar before taking a second cup of coffee to the living room where they exchanged the presents they had bought each other.

“That’s funny,” Tom said when they had ripped apart the wrapping paper each had carefully folded and sellotaped for the other. “There’s another box here, addressed to you.”

Mike grinned as he accepted the gift.

“A secret present from you?” he asked. “You shouldn’t have.”

“I didn’t,” Tom insisted. “You must have a secret admirer. It must be the Milk Tray man. I’m sure that wasn’t there last night, and neither of us believe in Father Christmas.”

Mike was sure Tom was kidding, at least until he opened the wrapping and found the note inside.

“It’s… from The Doctor!” he exclaimed.

“Doctor who?” Tom responded.

“THE Doctor,” Mike repeated. He smiled at his lover and sipped his coffee as he explained in the most plausible terms he could think of what and who The Doctor was and what part he had played in Mike’s life.

“Never mind all the stuff about aliens,” he said at the end of the tale. “Or exactly where The Doctor himself came from. The most Human thing he ever did was speak up for me when I’d been a complete blockhead, falling for a great big fat lie and committing treason into the bargain. Because of him pleading with The Brigadier, I avoided a court-martial and was allowed to resign from the army on medical grounds. I’ll never forget him doing that for me.”

“Treason!” Tom laughed, but Mike’s expression was serious.

“I’ll tell you all about it another day. It’s Christmas. Not the time for that sort of story. He reached for the gift from The Doctor. Inside the wrapping was a small box of the sort jewellers put rings into. Tom raised his eyebrows in a teasing way as Mike opened the box to see a man’s gold ring with a large blue stone set into it.

“Wow,” Tom said. “Are you sure this Doctor isn’t an old flame?”

“No, he isn’t,” Mike assured him. “This is… Wow. If that stone is real, it must be worth a bit. But there’s no motive except friendship, believe me.”

“Funnily enough, I do,” Tom said. He took the ring and held Mike’s hand. He slid the ring onto his middle finger. “With this ring, I thee wed,” he added with a giggle.

“Silly,” Mike responded. Then he gave a soft gasp. They both saw the stone glow momentarily. Mike looked at Tom and for a long time he didn’t say anything. When he did, he was quite serious and solemn about it.

“Tom, did I ever tell you I trust you completely and utterly?” he said.

“No,” Tom answered. “Because trust is something that doesn’t come easy to you. Love, yes. Loyalty, devotion, but you always have trouble with trust – as if you expect everyone to let you down in some way – even me.”

“Yeah,” Mike agreed. “You’ve summed me up good and proper. I think it was that time back with U.N.I.T., and immediately afterwards. I put my trust in too many of the wrong people – first General Finch and his cronies with the Operation Golden Age project, then Lupton and his meditation centre. I started to doubt my own ability to trust anyone at face value. I suppose it was a lingering effect of my mental breakdown. I know I wrecked a couple of relationships because of it. But I don’t think I need to worry any more. The moment I put that ring on, I felt it come over me like a warm, comforting blanket….”

“Felt what?”

“Trust…. The one thing that was missing for me. I knew I could trust you implicitly. I knew I never need doubt you, never be afraid of being let down by you.”

“Well, all of that goes without saying,” Tom answered him. “I’m just glad you’ve finally cottoned on. But… you mean the ring did that? It ‘told’ you to trust me?”

“It came from The Doctor. It probably originated on some psychic planet where people use rings to detect other people’s feelings or something.”

“So if you wear that ring you’ll know if somebody is lying to you?”

“I’m not sure about lying,” Mike admitted. “You’ve told a few lies… like when you said you’d forgotten my birthday and you’d set up a surprise party at the club. But trust is another matter. It can transcend the black and white of truth and lies.”

“That’s deep philosophy for Christmas morning,” Tom said. “But I think I understand. And I think we owe your Doctor a big thank you for ‘mending’ you.”

“Yes,” Mike agreed. “Yes, we do. Thanks, Doctor… Merry Christmas to you, old friend.”

John Benton woke early on Christmas morning, still thinking about his younger days at U.N.I.T. He didn’t regret leaving the army or the fact that his civilian career lacked excitement, but in the wake of those dreams he felt a strange kind of nostalgia.

He quietly got out of bed without disturbing his wife and slipped downstairs. The presents for the kids were all piled up under the tree – all except for the new bike his eldest wanted. That was leaning against the radiator under the window.

There was something under the tree that he didn’t recognise. He stroked the dog who came to lay at his feet and grabbed a tangerine from the fruit bowl, peeling it one handed while examining the odd present out. It was labelled with his name. Perhaps it was a surprise from his wife.

Or not. He had met her after he left the army. She had NEVER addressed him as Sergeant Benton.

He put the tangerine down and used both hands to unwrap the strange gift.

It was a book. The style of it suggested it was an old book, but it looked and felt relatively new. The cover was in new condition and the pages still crisp and white and uncut not yellow and thin and dog eared with age and use.

The title of the book was printed in embossed lettering on the front and spine of the plain blue hardcover.

The war memoirs of Lieutenant John Benton, Queens Lancashire Regiment, 1914-1918.

Lieutenant John Benton – his grandfather after whom he had been named, and who had been his inspiration as a boy to play soldiers, and as a young man to join up and be one for real. There had been a sepia photograph of him as a young officer on the drawing room wall of the house Benton grew up in. It was dated October 1917. The young lieutenant looked handsome in his uniform and proud to be wearing it. The fact that he was immersed in the bloodiest war British soldiers had yet fought didn’t seem to have dimmed his enthusiasm.

Benton remembered his grandfather as an old man who no longer fitted the uniform telling his grandson stories about the war. He had never tried to sugar coat the horror of the trenches, even for such young ears. Benton had known from an early age that war was no glorious game. But the spirit of duty and honour was instilled in him and he knew he would never think of any other career but the same one his grandfather and namesake chose.

As a young soldier himself he had often thought about his grandfather’s stories. He had wished he had written them down when they were fresh in his mind. By the time he was in uniform himself it was too late. The old soldier had died before his grandson had followed in his footsteps.

But here were those stories compiled into this book. There was the familiar picture from the drawing room wall as the frontispiece and photographs of Lieutenant Benton and the men of his regiment on glossy pages inserted between the text.

He turned to the imprint page, wondering where and when such a book had been published. He discovered from the small print that this was the very first of a numbered run of five hundred copies of the memoirs that were printed in 1921 by a publishing house in Manchester.

Not exactly a best seller, then, Benton noted. More than likely his grandfather had spent his savings on getting the memoirs printed then trawled around the bookshops of Bolton trying to get them to sell copies to make his money back.

Perhaps he did, because Benton had never known about the publication before. No copy had been on the bookshelf in the Benton family drawing room. Nobody had ever talked about it.

Whatever happened to the other four hundred and ninety-nine, this copy now belonged to Lieutenant Benton’s son, and he shed a silent tear in the quiet of the early morning because of that fact.

“Thanks, Doctor,” he whispered as he guessed just how a book that was over sixty years old could be in such pristine condition. He remembered now the strange noise he thought he had only dreamt about in the night – the reason why he had woken with such memories fresh in his head. The TARDIS had been here. The Doctor had brought this wonderful and unique present to him.

“You should have woken me up, boy,” he whispered to the dog, who looked up once then went back to sleep at his feet. “Never mind, you weren’t to know.” He smiled warmly and looked at the only space in the room where the TARDIS could possibly have fitted – just behind the door. “Happy Christmas, Doctor, wherever you are.”

Sarah Jane Smith woke early despite being late to bed on Christmas Eve. She hadn’t been partying or anything. She had spent the time hunting down an invasion of Muntlefinkles. Muntlefinkles were a variety of space imps that liked nothing but to make mischief. The particular mischief they had decided to make this night suggested that they had read the Dr Seuss story The Grinch that Stole Christmas. They had been going around stealing Christmas presents from houses all around the Borough of Ealing.

That was their fatal mistake. They chose to make mischief in the town where Sarah Jane lived, and she had K9 the robot dog with a massive database of information and a line in sassiness learnt from The Doctor, Mr Smith the interactive computer with connections to just about every other computerised system in the known galaxy, and her sonic lipstick. She was well prepared for them. A sting operation involving K9 wrapped up as a Christmas present under the big tree outside the church on Ealing Broadway and a portable stasis field rounded up the mischief-makers. She deposited them back in their ship and K9 programmed the navigation drive to deliver them directly to a space penitentiary on the outer moon of the planet Penitus in the Hollos V system.

It was a successful operation, over in time for her to pop into the church and hear the midnight carols before going home and settling into bed.

Now she woke up on Christmas Day and felt a little bit empty. She had prepared a Christmas dinner for herself, and she planned to spend the quiet afternoon reading some of her favourite books.

But for a little while as she lay in her bed in the cold light of a grey morning that promised snow, later, she felt the emptiness of the big house with so many empty bedrooms. She usually enjoyed the peace of her own company, but she had heard too many people say that Christmas was about the children, Christmas was about the family.

She had no children. She had no family. Aunt Lavinia was her last blood relative and she had passed away at a ripe old age. Lavinia’s ward, Brendan, who was only loosely related to Sarah Jane through her aunt was away in America.

Harry was gone. His untimely death had hit her hard and she missed him more than she would admit to anyone.

All her old friends from U.N.I.T. were still around, but she didn’t see them very often. They all had their own lives. The Brigadier was allegedly retired and living in the country with Doris, though he was known to don his uniform every so often and go off to do something for world peace. Captain Yates lived in the docklands with his boyfriend. Sarah Jane still hadn’t made up her mind how she felt about that, considering how often he had tried to date her when they were all much younger.

Sergeant Benton was a married man with three children, working as a used car salesman in his native Bolton. Christmas morning would be noisy and hectic for him. Christmas was for the children, after all.

So what was Christmas supposed to be for somebody like her, a career woman who had let relationships pass her by. Mike, Harry, even Benton had shown an interest once, but she was too busy being a journalist, and now it was too late for all of that.

The Doctor… well, goodness knows where he was. She thought of him every day. She was sure he never gave her a passing thought. He had the universe at his fingertips and plenty of people to come along for the ride. Why would he ever think about her?

No, she told herself, deliberately making herself sit up. No, even if everyone else forgot her, even The Brigadier himself, The Doctor would never do that. She was getting herself into a funk. Christmas blues, that’s what they called it. They had those phone numbers on the television for people who felt it so deeply they couldn’t bear it any longer.

But she was stronger than that. She didn’t get the blues. She LIKED her own company. There was no need to feel this way. She had planned a nice, quiet, peaceful Christmas and that was what she was going to enjoy.

She got out of bed, pulling a dressing gown around herself. She went downstairs to the kitchen and made a cup of coffee before going into the drawing room to drink it. K9 was upstairs in the attic, of course. She would have to bring him down later. For now she enjoyed the quiet of the morning on her own.

There were presents around the tree. They were from old friends – mostly those U.N.I.T. people she had been remembering, and fellow journalists and magazine editors that she knew.

There was something else there – a wrapped gift that she hadn’t placed there. She looked at it suspiciously, daring it to move, vibrate, sprout hair, feathers, tentacles or claws. Nothing of that sort would surprise her.

She looked closer and saw the label. In neat copperplate handwriting that she once knew very well it read ‘To My Sarah Jane from The Doctor.’

Two thoughts passed through her mind in the same instance. The first was surprise that The Doctor had given her a Christmas present.

The second was that The Doctor had been here, in the night, and hadn’t even stayed to say hello.

That was a sad thought. He knew where she lived, but he didn’t want to see her.

She took the gift on her lap and unwrapped it carefully. Inside the colourful wrapping paper was a plain cardboard box. Inside that was a very beautifully polished wooden box with an inlaid mother of pearl cameo design depicting a double-headed woman.

She opened the box carefully, guessing that it contained something precious. She looked at the object nestling in velvet within. It looked like a pearl, except it was the size of an ostrich egg. She picked it up and felt the cold solidness of it, admired the sheen that caught the light and split it into a delicate spectrum of colours.

There was a note inside the box, beneath the ‘pearl’. Again it was The Doctor’s handwriting. She read it carefully.

“If the past or the future troubles you, hold the Pearl of Agani in both hands. But use it sparingly. Dwelling on the past is fruitless and knowing too much about the future is self-defeating, but when you feel the need, use its power to comfort your mind.”

“Different,” she murmured to herself. She didn’t waste any time disbelieving the power of the alien artefact. She had a collection of strange objects in her attic that did all sorts of mysterious things.

Could this really do what it promised, though? If so, how did it work? There were no instructions, and certainly no switches. How did it know if she was worried about the past or the future.

She wasn’t worried about either, really. The way she had been feeling this morning wasn’t about the past and it wasn’t about the future.

Even so, she held the Pearl of Agani in her hands and felt it warming to her touch. She still wondered how it was going to work.

Then she heard voices, not coming from the Pearl exactly, but perhaps augmented by it in some way, like a relay station for radio.

The voices were from the future. Without needing to be told she understood that. And it was not just from the future generally, but her own future.

A future where two children called her mum, where Christmas Day was full of noise and chaos and unconditional love.

She didn’t know HOW any of that was going to happen, but she felt quite sure that it was the truth. Her future included that sort of Christmas that everyone talked about – the one that was all about the children, all about family.

And if that was going to happen in her future, then the quiet, peaceful, relaxing Christmas Day she had planned was something she ought to savour and enjoy while she had the opportunity.

She sighed happily and looked out of the window as one of her neighbours’ children passed the gate on a new bicycle, the first to be up and about, whooping with joy at his coveted Christmas present.

Then she went upstairs to fetch K9 from the attic for company, determined that she needed nobody else to enjoy this Christmas Day.

When her dinner was cooking and she sat and drank a small sherry she held it up in toast to one absent friend.

“Happy Christmas Doctor, wherever you are.”

Doris Lethbridge-Stewart woke on Christmas morning to find herself alone in the bed. That was not unusual. Alistair had ‘retired’ five years ago, but he still had a military body clock. He was always up early. He would walk the dog and then bring her a cup of coffee that had been brewing while he was out. It was there on the bedside table along with a shortbread biscuit from the Christmas tin.

She sat up and enjoyed her Christmas morning coffee before dressing and going downstairs. She expected to find Alistair in his study, working, despite the day, on those memoirs of his.

Instead he was in the drawing room, with newspapers over the occasional table, hard at work with a tube of glue and some kind of model kit.

“Where did that come from?” Doris asked. “I didn’t think anybody had given you a model kit for a present.”

Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart looked up with a wry smile.

“It came from The Doctor,” he answered.

“The Doctor?” For a moment Doris didn’t realise who he meant. Her mind turned to the GP that both of them occasionally attended. But he was not exactly a friend and she wouldn’t have expected Christmas presents from him.

Then she realised he meant that OTHER Doctor, the one who had made Alistair’s military life so much more colourful than it would have been if it had been purely about soldiering.

“But how….”

“I think he must have come in the night and left it,” Alistair replied in explanation. “The TARDIS can turn up anywhere, after all. Fancy that. He came to our drawing room, just to leave me a Christmas present.”

“A model kit?” Doris queried. “You’ve never done anything like that in your entire life.”

“My adult life,” he answered. “But when I was a boy, I loved them. I would make planes, ships, cars. What I wanted most was a one in eighteen scale model of a Silver Arrow, the car that won the British Grand Prix of 1938.”

“Grand Prix?” Doris was puzzled. “You’ve never been interested in motor racing, either. Why would you….”

“When I was a boy… cars were my passion. I loved watching them. I loved the smell of the petrol… unleaded, of course. I actually dreamt of being a motor car racing driver.”

“Never!” Doris laughed. It seemed so unlike the man she knew.

“It’s true,” he assured her. “But my father disapproved. So did my grandfather… the General.”

They both glanced automatically at the portrait that hung on the drawing room wall. It was a Lethbridge-Stewart family heirloom, a painting of an officer of a Highland regiment in his dress kilt. He had a stern, brooding expression and Doris always felt that he was standing in judgement over everything Alistair did. He must, surely, have approved of his military career, his high rank and his courageous service to his country, and to the whole Human race, but, of course, the expression on the painting never changed. It always looked stern, as if Alistair’s forebear always expected more of him.

“Does that mean that you didn’t WANT to be a soldier?” Doris asked. The thought had never occurred to her before. Alistair was a soldier. The military ran right through his soul like the lettering in a stick of seaside rock. He looked, walked, sat, like a soldier. She never imagined him any other way.

“No, not at the time. I really did want to be a racing driver, but my father thought that was a completely frivolous career, only for playboy sons of titled men who had nothing else to do before they inherited their Dukedoms. My grandfather agreed. He could countenance no other career for a first born son of his line but the Army.”

The Brigadier spoke with a strangely bitter tone then. Doris was a little shocked. She had never heard him speak of the Army that way before. She looked at him curiously as he put together part of the chassis of what was going to be a very large model, indeed.

“Christmas that year… the year that this car won the Grand Prix… I hoped for the model kit. I wanted that more than anything. But on Christmas morning… the biggest parcel under the tree was from my grandfather. It was a set of lead soldiers in the uniforms of the Light Brigade. I think they might have been made at the time of the Crimea. They were probably very valuable. But I was so disappointed I could have thrown them on the fire and melted them down to a lump of grey metal.”

“Oh dear.”

Alistair shook his head.

Little by little I started to play with them… I started to imagine being a soldier instead of a driver. My ambitions were shaped by those lead soldiers. When I was a man… I joined the army before I even had a driving licence. I took my test through the army driving school, and drove Land Rovers and Bedfords until I reached a high enough rank that other men did the driving for me. By then, I had almost forgotten that I ever wanted to be anything else.”


“I HAD forgotten. Until this morning. This… reminded me… of what might have been.”

“Then… was that really the best thing for you?” Doris asked. “Wasn’t it painful bringing back memories of such disappointments?”

“If this WAS just an ordinary model kit, perhaps it would have been,” Alistair answered. “But it came from The Doctor. There’s more to it than glue and plastic. Far more.”

“I don’t understand,” Doris said with the patience she had learnt to have since she first met her handsome Brigadier and wondered if they really could have a life together.

Alistair picked up the steering wheel from among the pieces. He held it in his open palm and invited Doris to touch it with her.

“Oh!” She gasped as the drawing room melted away around her and instead she saw a vision of another place and time entirely.

“Where are we?” she asked. Alistair was at her side. He was dressed in a tweed suit and a flat cap, as were a lot of the men around them. The women were in smart dresses and hats. Doris felt under-dressed until she realised that she was dressed the same.

“We’re still right where we were in our own drawing room,” Alistair assured her. “This is a sort of dream… a very real one, but just a dream. This is Donnington Park - where the British Grand Prix was held in 1938 - the one won by the car my model is based on, the Mercedes Benz W154 – popularly known as the Silver Arrow.”

“Goodness!” Doris exclaimed. “How extraordinary.”

“Stranger things have happened in The Doctor’s company,” Alistair told her. “This is… just a holiday from reality. Come, my dear. Let’s find ourselves a place to watch the end of the race.”

There were only four more laps to the end. The crowd were getting excited, and if they were REALLY there it would have been impossible to push their way through to the fence right beside the finishing line. As it was, the crowds just seemed to mould around them. Alistair kept his arm firmly around Doris’s shoulders to protect her even though there was no danger, no matter how much of a crush of excitement there was as they heard the cars approaching for the last time.

“There it is!” Doris cried out in excitement, even though she had never seen or heard of the Silver Arrow car before this day. She actually jumped up and down like a girl as it streaked past the chequered flag and won the race. She cheered as the driver, Italian champion Tazio Nuvolari, was rewarded with a wreath of greenery to confirm him as the winner.

“Why are so few other people cheering?” Doris asked as she calmed down and looked around at the crowds. “He won fair and square, didn’t he?”

“It’s October 1938,” Alistair reminded his wife. “An Italian driver in a German car won a BRITISH motor race. Everyone knows that they’ll be at war with those countries soon. National pride has been badly dented.”


“I didn’t even realise it myself at the time – as a boy. I just thought the Silver Arrow was a beautiful motor car. The politics hadn’t touched me. Perhaps I was naïve in that. By the following year I was as patriotic as any other boy, learning to spot German planes in the sky, cursing Hitler and Mussolini in equal measure and wishing I was old enough to do my bit for the Allies. But no wonder my father didn’t buy me what I wanted for that Christmas. No wonder they thought a set of lead soldiers was a better present for an English boy.”

He looked around. He was back in his own drawing room. So was Doris.

“I never thought about it that way before,” he said. “I was just so disappointed not to get the car. I never thought about that bigger picture.”

“By the time you became a soldier, West Germany and Italy were Britain’s allies,” Doris noted. “You’ve worked alongside men from both those countries.”

“Yes,” Alistair agreed. “But back then, it was so very different. I feel… less disappointment in my father and grandfather. I understand why they gave me soldiers for Christmas.”

“And now, at last, you have the present you wanted all those years ago.” Doris picked up a plastic moulded engine block. Nothing so dramatic happened this time, but she felt for a moment as if she could smell hot engine oil and unleaded petrol.

“Thanks to The Doctor, of course… probably the only man alive who could have KNOWN my childhood secrets.”

“Bless him,” Doris said. “Wherever he is.”

“Indeed,” Alistair agreed.

The TARDIS moved slowly through the solar system called Sol by intelligent races outside of it. The Doctor liked the view of the planets as he passed them by. He hummed a tune as he guided his faithful old time and space craft disguised as a police box past the rings of Saturn. If there had been anyone else aboard to hear – and assuming they came from Earth - they would have recognised the tune as ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’.

The Doctor was in a mellow mood. His gifts to his old friends were delivered -the simple ones like the souvenirs of past adventures he sent to Ian and Barbara or the book he tracked down for Benton, as well as the ones imbued with some unique qualities that he gave to those he thought needed them.

Nobody had given him a present, but he really didn’t need them to. The old adage that it was better to give than receive was absolutely true at a time like this.

The TARDIS cleared the solar system. He set the TARDIS for a smooth journey through the time vortex. He was going to have Christmas dinner with his old friend Thomas Jefferson and his family at the White House. Good food and pleasant company, just what The Doctor ordered.