“All right, Doctor,” Donna demands as the TARDIS doors are flung open, “are you going to tell me where we are?”
“Take a look,” the Doctor says with a grin as he follows her down onto the broad expanse of green and closes the door behind them.
Donna casts an eye around the well-tended fruit trees away to their right, with the small row of cottage-type buildings in the background, before turning around to look at the large house behind them and then turning back to the Doctor.
“Tell me I’m going to own this place one day!” she begs, and he has to laugh.
“You’ll have to wrestle it away from the National Trust — and its current owner,” he says as he thrusts his hands into the pockets of his trousers and begins striding across the green stretch of grass.
“Yeah, that’d be right,” Donna grumbles as she follows him. “Oh, well,” she adds longingly, “a girl can dream.”
The Doctor chuckles and continues over the ground, heading for the small buildings some distance from the grand house behind them.
“Doctor,” Donna suggests, pointing behind them, “wouldn’t we be better going up to the house? We can find out if your friend is at home.”
“Oh, he’s here,” the Doctor promises, peering in through one of the large windows. “He’s always here on days like this.”
“Well, then,” a voice says gruffly behind them, “I suppose tennis is out of the question this evening with that great blue box of yours in the middle of my lawn.”
“Winston!” The Doctor spins around, a grin on his face, as he turns to face the man who has come out of another door to stand behind them. “How are you, my friend?”
“Not as well as you, by the looks of things,” comes the acerbic retort. “Another change since our last meeting, I take it?”
Donna freezes at the sound of a voice she’s only ever heard on old newsreels and making what her teachers used to call inspiring speeches. She chides herself for being ridiculous — after all, she should be getting used to meeting famous figures from history by now — but somehow that momentary thrill never seems to lessen.
She gives herself an inward shake and turns to find that the Doctor is enthusiastically shaking the hand of — yes, there’s no mistaking that figure. It’s definitely Winston Churchill. Winston bloody Churchill! Who on Earth will she be faced with next?
“Now then, Winston,” the Doctor says eagerly as he frees himself and turns towards his companion, “I’d like you to meet Donna Noble. Donna, this is the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.”
She’s about to open her mouth in protest at what she assumes is the Doctor’s mistake regarding the title he’s used when she realises from the intensity of his gaze that he’s warning her against giving too much away. Instead she gives a slight nod, seeing as he relaxes a little, before turning her attention to the future Prime Minister.
“Delighted to meet you,” she says with a grin as she offers her hand. “No, honoured, in fact!”
The familiar growling laugh fills the air as Mr Churchill takes her hand and gives it such an enthusiastic shake that she has to surreptitiously flex her aching fingers once he finally lets go.
“Honoured, are we?” he demands with a sideways glance at the Doctor. His eyes twinkle. “More going on here than you’re clearly saying, Doctor, you and Miss Noble. Nobody’s ‘honoured’ to meet me.”
“Ah, can’t keep anything from you, can I, Winston?” the Doctor says with a grin. “Still, better not to give details sometimes, you know. The walls have ears and all that.”
“But we’re outside,” Donna can’t help pointing out. “There aren’t any walls.”
“Metaphorically speaking,” the Doctor adds with another meaningful look.
Winston chuckles again at this sally before turning to the Doctor once more. “Well then,” he says briskly, “what are you doing here then, Doctor? Clearly something big in the wind, eh? Last time you came was only two days before we declared war against the Huns. What’s the occasion this time?”
“And how’s that going, then, hmm?” the Doctor prompts, obviously changing the subject. “The war, I mean.”
The other man waves them in the direction of the house and begins leading the way along the path leading through the rose garden as he answers the question.
“All pretty quiet so far,” comes from the response. “In fact, people have taken to calling this a phoney war — although I doubt you’d hear any of the servicemen we’ve sent over saying that. There’s plenty of training and drilling and practice for the men we’ve sent away, even if they haven’t engaged the enemy yet. I personally prefer to call it a twilight war. It’s not phoney when men are preparing to die. By George!” There’s a tone of regret in the former soldier’s voice. “I wish I could go with them, be in the heat of the moment and all that. That’s where the real excitement is!”
“No, Winston,” the Doctor retorts immediately, “you’re far too valuable to go risking your life on some mission. This country needs you here — and whole. I wouldn’t worry though. You’ll be busy enough before long.”
“Well,” Winston speaks slowly, glancing sideways at the Time Lord and casting a wary eye around them, as if looking for eavesdroppers, “there are rumblings, you know. That’s why I thought I’d come to Chatsworth this weekend — just in case there isn’t so much time for it later.”
“Ah, finger on the pulse, as ever!” the Doctor declares triumphantly. “Can’t put anything past you, can I?”
“Goodness knows, you’ve tried often enough,” the future Prime Minister scolds. “Take today, for instance. I thought you once told me you hated Sundays, so what prompted you to come here now?”
“Oh, well,” the Doctor is clearly scrabbling for an answer, and Donna can already tell that their host isn’t deceived, “just popped in for a cup of tea?” he finishes what is obviously a question.
Winston lets out a bark of sarcastic laughter. “Not bloody likely,” he retorts as he stumps up the stairs leading to the terrace behind the house. “Come on then, Doctor, which is it? Are the Bosch up to something, or is there change in the wind that I should know about?”
“You already seem to know so much about it,” the Doctor says lightly, “that I’m not sure why you’re asking me.”
“Because it’s your TARDIS on my tennis lawn,” comes the ready retort. “I don’t suppose those blighters in Germany are satisfied with what Chamberlain and the others gave them and are ready to discuss terms?”
“Not bloody likely,” Donna mutters, but Winston obviously hears and glances sharply at her before returning his gaze to the Doctor.
“Thought that was a bit of wishful thinking,” he grumbles and drops into a chair. “This is likely to go on for a while then, I take it?”
“I’m afraid so,” the Doctor says at last, taking a seat opposite and pushing out a chair with his foot for Donna to sit on.
“More than likely.”
“Right then.” Winston sighs, his frame momentarily slumping, before putting his shoulders back and setting his substantial jaw as if preparing for a long siege. “Well, we’ll get there in the end,” he says briskly.
“That’s the spirit!” the Doctor declares, a grin lighting his face. “The fighting spirit, Winston; the one you’re known for!”
“Oh, I hope I’m known for a little more than that,” the First Lord of the Admirality growls, but there’s a dancing light in his eyes that makes Donna smile. She can’t help suspecting that, like the Doctor on occasion, Winston Churchill’s bark is much worse than his bite.
At this point, one of the maids comes out and Winston orders drinks for everyone. They speak of less important matters, such as Winston’s wife, Clementine, until everyone has been served and the doors of the patio are closed behind the maid.
When they’re alone again, the future Prime Minister leans towards the Doctor and speaks more confidentially. “Honestly, Doctor,” he mutters, “I have to tell you that I don’t give a damn who is leading this country, just so long as we send those Huns packing in the end.”
“Your love for your country, Winston,” the Doctor replies in similar tones, mirroring the other man’s body language, “is one of the finest things about you.”
“Then promise me,” comes the pleading response, “that my faith isn’t misdirected.”
The Doctor sits back in his chair with a faint sigh, staring out across the grass in the direction of the TARDIS, and thoughtfully sips his drink. Donna watches him, her own drink untouched, wondering exactly what he’s planning to do. She’s well aware that this isn’t a mere social call.
“Pig?” a voice says from nearby, and the three people at the table turn to see a woman standing nearby, a cluster of flowers in her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she goes on, “I wasn’t aware we had visitors.”
“Ah, Kat!” Winston jumps to his feet and gestures at the others. “You remember the Doctor, of course?”
The newcomer smiles and comes up the last few steps onto the patio, holding out a hand to the Time Lord, who stands up and puts down his glass before shaking her hand. “Lovely to see you again, Clementine,” he says with an easy smile that belies the obvious unease he had been feeling only moments earlier. “May I present a friend of mine, Miss Donna Noble?”
Donna accepts the other woman’s handshake and smile, as well as responding to her pleasantries, before Clementine Churchill turns to her husband. “I won’t interrupt you further.”
“No, no,” Winston disagrees. “The Doctor won’t mind, I know. What is it?”
“Would you mind coming to have a look at something? It won’t take a moment.”
“Yes, of course.” The man nods at the Doctor, whose gaze has returned to the TARDIS. “If you don’t mind, Doctor?”
“Not at all,” the Time Lord says, shaking his head a little and waiting until the other two leave before resuming his seat and nodding at Donna to do the same. “What do you think?” he asks in a low voice as the Churchills make their way across the grass below the terrace. “Should we do something to cheer him up?”
Donna frowns. “Why are you asking me?” she can’t help saying.
The Doctor smiles a little and turns his gaze to her face. “Because,” he says simply, “as you’ve told me in the past, I only see the big picture. Your strongest skill,” he goes on, apparently ignoring the blushes that his words are bringing to her cheeks, “is to understand individual people.”
“So what you’re asking,” Donna says slowly, pushing aside her feelings and focusing on the question at hand, “is if we — you! — should break the rules somehow?”
“Yeah,” the Doctor agrees slowly, once more swinging his gaze around to the peaceful verdure on all sides.
Donna frowns again. “But what happened to people not learning their fate and all that?”
The Doctor sighs and gets out of his chair, walking to the edge of the patio and gazing out over the trees. “The thing is, Donna,” he says quietly, “this is a key moment in time.”
He turns back to face her, clasping his hands behind his back.
“Today is May 5th, 1940,” he tells her. “On Friday, Neville Chamberlain will resign as Prime Minister. Several people will refuse to take on the job. They know — or at least they suspect — how difficult it will be. And,” he adds with a sigh, “several hours later, Germany will scoot around the Maginot Line and invade France through Belgium and Holland. That’s the start, of course. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.”
“The Battle of Britain,” Donna murmurs and he nods.
“In the end,” he adds, “King George VI will ask Winston to take on the job. I suppose,” he goes on in almost pleading tones, “I want to show him that it’s all going to be worthwhile. Do him a bit of a favour. You know.”
“Can you do that?” Donna has to ask. “I mean, it won’t ruin everything?”
“Not if we’re careful.” The Doctor grins, almost looking a little relieved at Donna not having argued with him. “And we would be.”
“Hold on though,” Donna says suddenly, and the smile on the Doctor’s face looks suddenly tense. “How are you going to manage it?” she goes on, waving a hand in the direction in which the Churchills had gone. “He’s one of the most recognisable faces in Britain,” she points out. “Anywhere you take him, people are going to be all over him like a rash. Are you telling me that’s not going to cause a paradox of some sort?”
The Doctor beams at her. “Donna Noble,” he begins enthusiastically, but she cuts him off.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m brilliant, you keep saying that,” she says in her most cutting tones. “What you haven’t told me yet is how you’re going to keep Winston Churchill from finding out that he’s...”
“What am I?” a growling voice demands, and then the future elder statesman of British politics stumps into view over the grass.
The Doctor winks cheekily at Donna, who is momentarily silenced, before striding across the few feet separating the two men and clapping Winston on the shoulder.
“You’ve been nagging me for ages,” he points out, nodding at the TARDIS. “How about a trip?”
Winston Churchill is clearly as taken aback as Donna was shortly before. He gapes for a moment, his eyes travelling between the blue box and the Time Lord, before he rocks back on his heels and glares almost suspiciously at the other man.
“Why?” he snaps.
The Doctor exchanges grins with Donna. “Because,” he replies, “you’re right, as ever. Big changes are in the wind and you need to make the right decision. I’d like to show you something that might be able to help you choose.”
Donna feels the familiar thrill in the pit of her stomach as, a few minutes later, they are spinning through the vortex and heading for the Doctor’s chosen destination. She can’t help grinning across the console at the Doctor, who is running around with his usual craziness, and they both shoot glances at the third passenger of the TARDIS.
Winston Churchill is perched on the jumpseat, peering intently at the various gears and knobs. He’s clearly recovered from his initial shock at the larger inner size of the blue box and is now studying it intensely. Donna can’t help wondering exactly what he’s thinking, but she isn’t left in the dark for long.
“I tell you, I could do incredible things with this machine of yours,” he says softly.
The Doctor glances over his shoulder and arches a questioning eyebrow. “In what way?”
“The element of surprise, Doctor!” Winston’s eyebrows lift and he gestures around them with his hands outstretched. “I could land soldiers anywhere, at any time and place! Oh, it would be magnificent!”
“Ah, ah, ah!” The Doctor turns on his heel and holds up a warning finger. “Get this straight, Winston — the TARDIS is not and never will be a weapon! It won’t work for anyone else and I won’t ever see it used as a troop carrier!”
“But Doctor, you could do so much good with your TARDIS!” Winston pushes himself up off the jumpseat and begins stumping his way around the console. “This war could be over in weeks — in days!” He turns back to the Time Lord. “Just think about it!”
The Doctor is leaning against the console, his arms folded over his chest. “No,” he says simply.
“But why?” Winston exclaims in aggravation.
There’s an increasing coldness in the Doctor’s voice that Donna recognises. “I don’t fight wars,” he says. “Not anymore. I end them.”
Donna’s thoughts are taken back to their unintentional visit to Messaline and the Doctor’s triumphant cry of “I declare this war over!” She can’t help wishing that he could do something to end the coming war and save the lives of those who won’t survive.
“But not this one,” the Time Lord continues, almost as if he’s read her thoughts, his tones tense as he gazes at the man who will play such a key role in the conflict. “This one is a fixed point in time. What happens happens and I can’t change it.
“People will die,” Winston warns, stopping dead to stare at the other man.
“How do you know,” the Doctor says quietly, “that the alternative won’t be worse?”
Donna watches the battle of wills between two equally stubborn and determined men. She can tell that they’ve had similar conversations before from the way they are reacting to each other, keeping a physical distance, but with almost identical body language.
The tension builds and Donna doesn’t dare to move — until finally Winston looks away with an audible sigh and the Doctor relaxes at the same instant.
“Well, then,” the future Prime Minister grumbles, “what have you got to show me?”
The Doctor picks something up from the console and crosses the few feet between them, placing a string with something shiny on it around the other man’s neck.
“You’ll need to keep this on,” he warns. “It’ll keep people from noticing you. And that’s the last thing we want to happen.”
“Why’s that then?” Winston grumbles.
A grin lights the Doctor’s face. “You’ll see,” he promises before moving to the ramp and throwing open the doors to reveal a cheering, dancing crowd. The noise seems to fill the TARDIS and the gloomy look on Winston Churchill’s face brightens.
“Just promise me we’re not in Berlin,” he grumbles in would-be grim tones.
The Doctor chuckles. “Not unless the Nazis decided to move Buckingham Palace there, stone by stone,” he replies, waving at the other two people to precede him out of the TARDIS.
Donna steps out onto the small clear patch of ground in front of the white doors and feels a grin appear on her face at the absolutely joyous mood of the crowd around them. It’s impossible not to feel happy when everyone around them is so elated.
“VE Day,” the Doctor announces as he ushers Winston out of the TARDIS. He waves an arm around at the people nearby in a gesture of demonstration. “Victory in Europe.” He turns to face the other man. “It ends,” he promises, so quietly that his voice is almost lost in the hubbub. “It ends well,” he adds.
Winston steps out onto the cobblestones in front of the TARDIS and gazes around at the scenes of jubilation that surround them. He studies them for a long time, his deep-set eyes travelling slowly over the countless groups, small and large, cheering and dancing through the streets. His gaze flickers up to the flags hanging from windows and the long strings of miniature flags that are fluttering madly in the breeze. Music comes from a nearby violinist who is playing inspiring songs, with many people joining in the chorus.
It takes Donna a moment to realise that neither of the two men beside her have said anything. Winston's silence, in particular, is somewhat unnerving, and Donna is about to speak when she happens to catch the Doctor’s eye. The expression on his face prevents her from speaking. It’s clear that the Time Lord is waiting for something, and Donna suddenly realises that she’s seeing the future Prime Minister making up his mind.
Finally the First Lord of the Admiralty nods and, much to Donna’s surprise, steps back away from the mob and turns towards the peace of the TARDIS.
“Well, then,” he declares as the Doctor and Donna hurry to follow him back inside, “I’d better get on with it, hadn’t I?”
“Just so long,” the Doctor says as he closes the door behind them and heads for the console, “as you give me back that key you’ve just pocketed.”
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