“So, there’s no Noddy, huh?”
The Doctor looked up sharply from the TARDIS console and stared at Donna. After their experiences with Agatha Christie and the Vespiform, this was definitely the last comment he had expected her to make.
“You said there was no Noddy.” Donna was leaning against one of the coral-coloured support beams, her arms folded over her chest.
“Uh, what?” He thought back over the happenings of the past two days and finally managed to recall the conversation — if you could call it that — that they had had in the library of Eddison Manor. “Er, yes,” he agreed slowly. “I did.”
“Prove it,” she told him.
“What?” He stared at her in confusion. “I could get the whole ‘proving something actually exists’. Law of physics or something. Easy. But,” he scratches his head, “how do you expect me to prove that something doesn’t exist?”
“Fine!” she huffed, pouting. “Just don’t expect me to believe you!”
The Doctor rolled his eyes and then adjusted something on the console. “Okay, look, if you want to believe Noddy’s real, I won’t stop you! Just don’t ask me to set the TARDIS to find her.”
“Him.” Donna glared at him and then rocked back on her heels to stare at him incredulously. “You’ve never heard of him, have you? That great gaping hole of knowledge you’ve got about pop culture is definitely going to be your downfall one day, mate. Oi, and while we’re on the subject, if you’ve never heard of him, how do you know if he exists?”
The Doctor sighed heavily and then looked up, summoning patience for what he guessed would end up being a long argument. “Donna, you mentioned Enid Blyton. And I can promise you, before you ask me, that every one of her characters is fictional. As are,” he continued, getting into his stride, “other fictional characters from the books you like to read — yes, I’m sorry to say, that includes Harry Potter — and most other mythical creatures.”
“Not the tooth fairy,” Donna said flatly. “I got money from her for my baby teeth.”
“Sadly, yes, not real.”
“Definitely not real. What would a rabbit be doing carrying around chocolate eggs? Rabbits don’t even lay eggs — not on Earth, anyway.”
“Most particularly Santa.” The Doctor held up a hand to stop Donna speaking, but he was cut short himself by an unexpected sound.
It was as if someone was knocking on the door of the TARDIS.
The Doctor glanced quickly over his shoulder at the monitor that showed the outside world. He spun on his heel, reaching out to stop Donna opening the door, but he was a split second too late.
“Hello, Donna Noble,” said a deep, rich, rolling voice from outside.
Donna squeaked. She stared for a long moment before turning to the Doctor, and there was triumph in her expression.
“No Santa, huh?” she demanded, and then moved to one side to reveal a portly gentleman, dressed in red pants and red braces over a white t-shirt, with a long white beard, standing outside the TARDIS.
“You’re a week and a half early,” the Doctor grumbled as he helped Santa squeeze a large red bag in through the TARDIS doors.
“Not my fault,” the newcomer retorted. “Half the elves are down with something. No idea what. Probably contagious. Thought it was more sensible to leave them to it and come looking for you. I can’t say you made it easy for me this year. What possessed you to choose 1926?”
“Random co-ordinates.” The Doctor jerked his head in the direction of the woman who was leaning against the console and — he hated to see — smirking. “She likes it that way.”
“Well, she would,” said Santa, mopping his face with a large spotted handkerchief once they finally set the bag down. “I didn’t give her that magnifying glass and nice sturdy boots when she was five because I thought she’d enjoy killing ants with them, like some other children in her neighbourhood.” He fixed the TARDIS owner with a sharp gaze. “I hope you’re being nice to her, Doctor.”
“Hah!” The Doctor looked indignant. “I’m always nice!”
“Hogwash.” Santa looked stern. “If only I’d had Gallifrey under my jurisdiction all those years ago, you’d have got toys that taught you something. But no, the Elders were having none of it. Too juvenile, apparently. Some silly argument about childhood not being a healthy state. And honestly, the way the Earth’s going, it won’t be long before people there will feel the same way…”
The Doctor snorted loudly. He turned away, but turned back quickly when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Santa crossing the room to Donna.
“You’re very quiet, my dear,” said the elderly man — the Doctor made a mental note to tell Donna that she’d finally met someone older than he was! — and patted Donna on the arm in a paternal manner. “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, no!” Donna beamed. “Actually, I’m savouring the moment. It’s not every day that the Doctor’s proved wrong.”
“Hey!” The Doctor bounced upright — he’d been leaning against one the support beams — and glared at her. “I wasn’t wrong!”
“Then you were lying to her,” said Santa with a stern look. “That’s you off my ‘nice’ list then, my boy.”
“Huh!” The Doctor folded his arms over his chest and muttered under his breath.
“Wasn’t there anything you wanted to ask me, Donna?”
Santa smiled and his eyes twinkled blackly at her. Donna couldn’t help thinking that Coca Cola had managed to get an amazing likeness in their commercials and she wondered if someone from the company had travelled with the Doctor.
“What did the Doctor mean before when he said you were a week and a half early?” Donna rounded on the man standing a short distance away. “Have you done this before?”
“Well…” The Doctor waved his hand in a vague manner. “Maybe… once or twice…”
Santa fished a long strip of paper out of his pocket and, after fishing out a pair of half-moon spectacles, which he placed on the end of his nose, made a note on it and peered over the glasses at the Doctor. Donna couldn’t help giggling when she saw the look of horror on the Time Lord’s face.
“Oh, all right,” the Doctor burst out. “Yes, I help him. Yes, he exists. Happy?”
“No.” Donna crossed the room and he ducked, afraid he was about to get slapped, but instead she placed a gentle hand on the red sack. “What’s this then?”
“Ah!” Santa followed her across the room and pulled three yellow strips of ribbon out of the bag. He gave one to the Doctor, who took it with visible reluctance, and handed the second to Donna. “Now, just hold that steady for a moment. Doctor, you go over there.” Donna grinned as the Doctor did as he was told. Santa took up a position between them, the third strip of ribbon in his hand. “All ready? Good, then pull!”
Donna gasped as the walls of the console room seemed to shoot backwards away from them. Objects flew out of the bag and landed in various places around the room, shuffling about to make room for one another. One particularly dirty machine landed on the floor and left a greasy mark, which made the Doctor yelp.
“Hey, I spent hours cleaning in here!”
“Oh, pipe down,” Donna was beginning, when she heard the words echoed from beside her and exchanged grins with Santa. “It’ll come off,” the man finished her sentence. “It always does. And Doctor?”
The Doctor did as he was told with another loud yelp and narrowly avoided being brained by a huge whiteboard that flipped over to land right way up and roll across the floor to the centre of what had become a massive room, the console suddenly looking very small in the middle of it.
Once the whiteboard came to rest, there was silence. Donna glanced down at the red bag, which was lying in a pathetic heap on the floor and which looked impossibly small to have held the multitude of machines and conveyor belts that had now taken up residence in the TARDIS.
“Well, get on with it then,” Santa directed, and the room was suddenly filled with the almost deafening sound of production. “Oh, and Doctor,” he added, now forced to roar at the top of his voice to be heard over the machines, which were beginning to pump out wrapped parcels in countless shapes, sizes and colours, as names and numbers wrote themselves on the whiteboard “you might want to get us into the Vortex. I don’t think even the TARDIS perception filter could hide the racket this lot are making.”
He waved Donna in the direction of the hallway that led to the lower rooms of the TARDIS, and she was relieved to find that they could no longer hear the headache-inducing noise once they were out of the console room.
“Come along, my dear. Library. I know the Doctor sets up the Christmas tree in there and we might as well be comfortable. He’ll be here as soon as we’ve taken off.”
Donna slipped her hand into Santa’s and smiled at him. “You sound as if you know him well.”
“Oh, I do!”
Santa returned her smile and led her into the library. As he had said it would be, a medium-sized Christmas tree was standing in the corner, although Donna was certain that it hadn’t been there when they left the TARDIS for Eddison Manor.
“Sit down,” Santa directed before he moved over to the sideboard, which held a motley collection of half-filled bottles. Picking up a decanter, he raised it to the light, an expression of obvious disappointment on his face, before he turned to the Doctor, who had just sauntered into the room. “Didn’t we speak about this last year?”
“What, keeping that topped up? Well, yes,” the Doctor admitted, sitting down in the armchair opposite Donna, “but I was busy. Titanic over Buckingham Palace. You must have seen it on your travels.”
“My dear boy, at that hour I was in Russia! How was I meant to see something like that? By the time I got to London, Wilf and his family were about the only ones there — apart from the Windsors, of course — and it was all over.”
“What?” Donna stared at them both. “You mean that was real?”
“Oh, yes.” The Doctor took the glass offered by Santa and leaned back against the cushion and spoke in would-be casual tones. “Nearly wiped out the planet. Luckily I was able to prevent it.”
“Modest soul, isn’t he?” remarked Santa, settle down on the couch and moving his beard to one side so that he could rest the glass of port on his large belly. “Always so meek and self-effacing…”
“Well, I did save the Earth!”
“Ah, but never alone,” Santa scolded, waving a finger at him. “You often seem to forget that part. You’ve always got people helping you. Sometimes they have to do it for you. As I recall, it was Martha who had to traipse around the planet, telling everyone about you. And wasn’t it Donna,” he nodded in her direction, “who stopped you from destroying yourself along with the Racnoss?”
“I could’ve got out,” he mumbled into his glass.
“That’s as may be,” said Santa genially. “We’ll never know for sure, because you seem to have a knack of finding the right person for the right situation. Sometimes I think that’s your real skill.”
The Doctor sank further down in his chair and turned his gaze to the Christmas tree. As he clearly had nothing to say, Donna turned to Santa.
“So, why do you need his help?” she asked, jerking a thumb in the Time Lord’s direction. “What happened to your sleigh and reindeer? And your factory?”
“Well, you heard me say that a large number of the elves are sick.” He grinned. “Between you and me, I think it might be time for some of them to retire. It’s almost laughable how many of them develop illnesses on the first of December. Of course, they’re well enough to eat the chocolate out of their Advent calendars though.”
Donna grinned. “Sounds like me when it came to exam week at school.”
“I know,” said Santa severely, and Donna’s face took on a sheepish expression.
“Yeah,” she admitted slowly. “You probably do.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, my dear.” He gave a deep, rolling chuckle. “You aren’t the first child to do that and you won’t be the last. If I scrubbed every child off my list who did that, my delivery run would take no time at all.”
“So it’s true,” said Donna eagerly. “You do fly around the world, delivering presents to every child.”
“Hmm, yes and no.” Santa took a sip of his port. “Some part of the story have been, well, rather exaggerated. For instance,” he smiled, “all that stuff about the reindeer is someone’s very fanciful notion of how I travel. I mean, really, can you imagine how many problems I’d have with quarantine if I used them? And the sled — well, I used to use something that looked like a sled, at least until it ended up stuck looking like a police box!”
“What?!” Donna stared at the Doctor, who was deliberately keeping his gaze on the Christmas tree behind her. “You never told me that!”
“I would imagine,” said Santa with a grin, “that there’s a great deal he hasn’t told you yet.”
The Doctor mumbled something that Donna suspected was agreement and she glared at him.
At that moment, and before Donna could speak, Santa finished his glass of port and a chime rang through the TARDIS, bringing both men got to their feet.
“Shall we get started then?” the Doctor suggested, ushering Donna out of the room and into the now-silent console room, which was empty of all but the console and the whiteboard, and which had reverted to its usual size. Santa came in behind them and opened the bag, looking in with a satisfied noise, before pulling on his red coat with white furry edging.
“Right then,” he said with a broad beam, looking at Donna and the Doctor, “let’s get on with it.”
Donna quickly lost count of how many times the TARDIS stopped and the large red bag produced gifts that Santa took out into whichever house they were visiting.
“I’ve thought about stranding him, just to give some child a thrill,” said the Doctor on one of these occasions, “but I can’t quite bring myself to do it.”
“You’d be on the ‘naughty’ list forever,” Donna suggested, and Santa chuckled as he got back into the TARDIS and they took off again.
Remarkably, no matter how many houses they visited, the red bag never decreased in size. It kept producing gifts and the names and numbers on the whiteboard erased and rewrote themselves, matching the destinations that the Doctor entered into the TARDIS.
“How long have you been doing this?” Donna wanted to know.
“Well, not forever,” the Doctor admitted. “I stumbled across him one night in the eight hundreds, just after I rescued Charlemagne, and gave him a helping hand. And,” he added, “I might have offered — just a bit, you know — to help him out if he needed it again. Then he tracked me down the next year, and the one after that, and now it’s a tradition. ’Course,” he added, “I usually have to go and save the Earth afterwards, but it’s quite nice while it lasts.”
Donna gave him an affectionate nudge. “You’re just a big softie,” she told him. “I didn’t think you’d really mind it that much or you wouldn’t let him find you every year.”
He shrugged, looking a bit sheepish, and then stopped talking as Santa came back into the TARDIS.
“Right then,” he said, looking at the board, which was now wiped clean, “a very good night’s work, Doctor. Thank you. All right,” he added, nodding at the board, which flipped up into the air and dove into the large red bag.
“Where shall I drop you off, then?” asked the Doctor with a grin. “Back in 1926?”
“Not if you know what’s good for you,” retorted Santa, an answering grin on his face. “It’d take me forever to get back home. The usual place will do nicely, thank you.”
The Doctor put a set of co-ordinates into the TARDIS and leaned against the console, his arms folded. “Seemed to be quite quick this year.”
“Probably because you weren’t left in here on your lonesome while I was doing my stuff,” said Santa. “You’re very good for him, my dear,” he added to Donna. “Just don’t believe everything he tells you, all right?”
She chuckled. “I promise, I don’t!”
“What?” The Doctor looked hurt and she slapped his arm.
“Ah, here we are,” said Santa as the TARDIS landed with a gentle bump. He picked up the sack and swung it onto his back. “Well, it’s been a pleasure, as ever, Doctor. And Donna, look after yourself. And the Doctor.”
“Don’t worry,” said the Doctor, sliding his arm through hers. “She will!”
Santa waved as he carried the sack out of the TARDIS and once the doors had closed, Donna turned to the Doctor.
“Well! That was… different.”
The Doctor grinned as he strolled over to the console and pressed the button that sent them into the Vortex. “Good different or bad different?”
“Oh, good! Very good! Except…” Donna’s face fell, “with everything that was going on, he never managed to leave us a present.”
“Never mind, Donna.” The Doctor slid his arm around her shoulders and they strolled out of the console room, heading for the library. “And d’you know, I don’t think I’ve ever got a present from him.”
“Well, you can’t blame him.” Donna laughed. “What do you get a nine-hundred-year-old Time Lord?”
The Doctor joined in her laughter, but they both fell instantly silent as they arrived at the threshold of the library.
The Christmas tree appeared to have grown in size so that it took up a quarter of the room. Lighted candles flickered and glowed on every branch. Brightly wrapped gifts lay around the base. The golden star on the top reflected the light from the blazing fire that is burning in a grate that Donna was certain never existed in the room before.
“Why the sneaky old thing!” the Doctor burst out. “He must have done this while we were going up to the console room.”
“But could he?” Donna asked. “It couldn’t be the TARDIS…”
“Not that.” He pointed to the fire and crossed the room, holding out his hands to the flames. “Real, too. A physical impossibility on this ship. Especially in the Vortex. But he’s got his own brand of magic, old Santa.”
“I bet he has.” Donna smiled and crossed the room to join him, pointing to the coffee table as she came around the corner of the sofa. “Look, Doctor.”
The Doctor turned and chuckled at the sight of a tray bearing a full decanter and two clean glasses on the otherwise empty table, which had previously held their empty drinking vessels.
“I’ll have to thank him next year,” said the Doctor, going over to bend down in front of the tree and pull the presents towards him. When Donna remained silent, he looked back over his shoulder at her. “Are you coming? There’s some here for you, too.”
She joined him beside the tree and they each ended up with a pile of gifts that they took over to the armchairs. The Doctor ripped the paper off his first present, as eager as a young child.
“Oh, brilliant!” he exclaimed, pulling the paper away to reveal a cardboard box. “Look, Donna, new shoes!”
“Converse,” she added with a knowing grin. “What else?”
“Footwear of champions,” he agreed. “We’ve got to get you some.”
“I manage very well in what I’ve got, thanks,” she retorted. “But really, converse with Christmas lights on them?” She eyed him up and down. “I don’t think red and green go with brown that well. Or blue.”
“Pfft, fashion!” he rolled his eyes, yanking off his current red pair so that he could pull on the new shoes. “Fantastic,” he announced and the vigorous movements from his feet suggested that he was wriggling his toes. Then he nodded at Donna. “Come on, open one.”
“All right, all right.” She carefully unwrapped the first parcel on top of her pile and picked up the small box it contained. “Ooh,” she murmured, opening it and taking out the large ring inside. “It’s lovely! And,” she slid it onto the third finger of her left hand, “a perfect fit.”
The Doctor had scarcely waited for her to finish admiring it before he ripped into his next present and before long the floor around his chair was strewn with wrapping paper, while a neat pile of refolded sheets lay on the table in front of Donna.
“Gorgeous!” sighed Donna. “New clothes, books, that stunning bathing suit and some jewellery.” She looked at the Doctor, who had moved to sit beside her on the couch. “And you did pretty well for yourself, Mr I’ve-never-had-a-present: those new shoes, some parts of the TARDIS, so we hopefully won’t end up anywhere we don’t want to be again, some shirts and ties that will match those two suits you seem to insist on wearing every day…”
“Hey!” The Doctor rolled his eyes. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“Oh, nothing.” Donna stopped short and then smiled at him. “Let’s not discuss it now. It’s Christmas.”
“It is indeed.” The Doctor grinned at his companion, one arm stretched along the back of the couch behind her. “Merry Christmas, Donna.”
She leaned forward and lightly brushed his lips with hers. “Merry Christmas, Spaceman.”
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