The applause had gone on for so long that it had started to make Donna’s head ache, so that she was grateful when they were led away to be dressed for the feast that would apparently be held in their honour.
She supposed they deserved it — she and the Doctor had, after all, just overthrown a tyrant who had aimed to destroy the planet. Actually she was still a little hazy on the exact details behind the plan. Something about turning the entire ice-based planet on which they had found themselves into an economy based on Christmas.
Just that bit of information had been enough.
The Doctor was never happy when someone tried to take over a peaceful society, and the idea of Christmas was red-rag-to-a-bull stuff for Donna. Their combined treatment had been methodical, brutal and unsurprisingly effective. No second chances.
While they were being invested into ceremonial robes for the ceremony being thrown by the occupants of the planet for saving them from becoming part of the Christmas machine, Donna asked the Doctor exactly what had been so wrong with the failed evil overlord’s plans anyway. Apart from the Christmas stuff, which she could understand, but what was so bad about the rest?
“Balance of economic power,” he had told her. At least, that was what she thought he said, but as his robe had been being pulled over his head at the time, making his voice muffled, it might have been anything. “Same thing happened on Frogstar B,” he went on, more clearly. “That was shoes, though, not Christmas. Shoe Event Horizon. A whole planet of nothing but shoes in the end. Absolutely disaster.”
The Doctor had refused point-blank to take her to Frogstar World B, and she still wasn’t sure why. Frankly, a planet composed of shoe shops sounded like the closest thing to Heaven that Donna could imagine.
Donna thought about that again as one of the aliens helped her to don her robe.
“You know something, Doctor?”
“Hmm?” He peered over the screen that divided the room, looking, Donna thought swiftly, not unlike Kilroy, whom she had drawn numerous times as a child. “What is it, Donna?”
She extended a foot, clad in the sandals she had put on before they left the TARDIS. “These really don’t match my robe,” she complained. “Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“We-ell,” one hand disappeared, only to reappear with the sonic screwdriver held between his fingers, “I don’t know how well it’ll work, but...”
“Oh, no you don’t!” She pulled her foot back under the safety of her robe as quickly as she could. “Didn’t you say there was a law on this planet against going barefoot? Not to mention the risk of frostbite on my toes. ’Cos I know what that would do to my shoes, chum. There’d be nothing left of them!”
“Well, what do you expect me to do then?” he demanded, looking rather sulky as he pulled his hand away and the sonic vanished from sight. Then his eyes widened in obvious realisation before he arched an eyebrow. “Oh, no! No, no, no. You’re not talking me into taking you to the Frogstar with that little stunt, Miss Noble. Anyway it’s not like that dream of yours now with shoe shops everywhere. There’s only one person who’s ever survived the Total Perspective Vortex and that’s me — and only thanks to the fact that there were so many points in time and space where I’d turned up that it overloaded the machine and I managed to escape back to the — oh.”
He stopped, clearly understanding the look Donna was directing at him that aimed to stop his babbling.
“Anyway,” he went on after an uncomfortable silence, “no Frogstar. But once this is over, I promise to find you a place where you can shop for shoes to your heart’s content. Deal?”
She rolled her eyes, accepting the fact that he wouldn’t change his mind. “Yeah, all right,” she agreed at last. “Oh,” she added as the door of her room opened to reveal a number of the ministers who had already expressed their gratitude, “are we ready then?”
“All is prepared,” intoned one of the figures, gesturing with a wave of his arm, and before Donna could look around, the Doctor was beside her, his fingers sliding between hers.
“So what’s going to happen?” she asked as they walked along the hallway.
“Oh, just the usual showing of gratitude,” the Doctor replied. “A quick feast, a couple of speeches — short, hopefully — and then we’ll be on our way.”
“And the carving of the ceremonial statue,” one of the figures walking in front of them added before Donna could suggest that, if the Doctor got going, his speech would be anything but short. “That will be done while you are enjoying the feast.”
“Ah.” The Doctor rubbed his ear thoughtfully. “And that.”
“Going to be pretty bloody hard to eat if we have to sit still so they can carve whopping great statues of us,” Donna muttered, but not loud enough for anyone to hear.
A few moments later they arrived in a massive space carved out of ice, with decorative panels on the walls and long icicles hanging from the roof, reminding Donna once more — not that she’d forgotten! — that the Doctor had managed to find the only other ice planet in the Universe other than the Oodsphere to bring her. The shoe shopping he’d promised had better be somewhere bloody warm, or else there’d be hell to pay.
Two massive throne-like chairs stood on a dais, and although Donna shuddered at the thought of sitting on ice, she found that they had been warmed in some mysterious manner. She knew better than to ask the Doctor what was going on in order to prevent the long and incomprehensible lecture that she knew would follow. Instead she concentrated on the delicious soup that was placed in front of her, trying to ignore the loud rasping and scraping sounds from the back of the room.
Finally, however, she was unable to restrain her curiosity, turning to the Doctor, only to find him with mouth open, clearly preparing to speak.
“Ice,” he reminded her. “Thus ice sculpture.”
“Ice sculpture?” she echoed disbelieving. “How long’s that going to last then?”
“In this place?” He thumped the ice table in front of them with a clenched fist to demonstrate its solidity. “Forever, if not longer.”
“Oh.” Donna drew her cloak more closely around her, although it was already doing a good job of keeping her warm. “Hadn’t thought of that.”
“Yeah.” He grinned at her before attacking his meal with as much enthusiasm as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.
She rolled her eyes, finished her own meal, and then sat back in her chair and waited for what she imagined would follow — long and boring speeches. Therefore she was pleasantly surprised when the leader stood up and, after a few sentences expressing his gratitude for the actions of Donna and the Doctor, announced that they would be shown the hard work of the ice artisans as a grand conclusion to their celebrations.
In response, a large trolley was wheeled around, on which rested a massive block of clear ice, out of which two forms have been carved.
Donna had to admit that they’d done a decent job, particularly with her hair, although it looked strange being see-through rather than its usual red. And while she looked big, it was clear that much of her shape was caused by her jacket. In fact, when she examined it closely, she thought they might even have shaved off a few inches here and there, which was something she certainly wasn’t going to complain about.
One thing that did intrigue her, though, was that there seems to be something perched on her sculpture’s head. She reached up reflexively, but her head was bare. However the movement cause her gaze to travel around the room and she saw that many of the other ice sculptures that took the places of statues in various niches wore a similar headdress.
The Doctor’s sculpture, too, she noticed, had a form of headgear, although it was smaller than the crown-like object on hers.
In fact, she wondered that her statue stood slightly ahead of the Doctor’s. The throne on which her ice figure was seated looked somewhat larger. She glanced back out of the corner of her eye and saw that it was a reflection of reality. Her chair was larger, or at least taller, because they looked to be about the same breadth. So it wasn’t because the Doctor was a skinny rat who needed a good feed. No, there was something else going on, and judging by the heightened colour on the Doctor’s face, Donna could make a good guess as to what it was.
“Oi.” She nudged him and nodded at the statue, speaking softly. “I can’t read that little plaque they’ve put on it from here. Can you?”
“Mmm.” His response was strangely non-committal, and Donna was left almost stunned when he leapt to his feet and grabbed her arm, almost dragging her out of her chair and over to where the leading panel of citizens were standing admiring the sculptors’ work. “Well,” the Time Lord said briskly, “it’s been very pleasant and all that, but I’m afraid we must be off.”
“Of course.” The leader nodded in his most accommodating fashion. Then Donna was forced to stifle a strong urge to choke as he turned, very deliberately, to her. “We shall hope to see you in the future, so that we may show how much we value everything you have done for us.”
She smiled, struggling to prevent it becoming a smirk as she glimpsed the Doctor’s face out of the corner of her eye. “I hope that we will both come back at some time,” she said as graciously as possible.
The Doctor’s hand tightened around her arm so that she had to bite her lip to avoid squawking at the pain, but he spoke before she could make a sound. “And in the meantime, we have to get going,” he declared, and forcefully guided Donna in the direction of the TARDIS, which was standing at the end of the hallway, almost before anyone else could speak, the white doors banging behind them.
Donna took a few seconds to compose herself while the TARDIS was sent into the vortex before turning to the Doctor, her face wearing the best expression of confusion she could muster when actually she was longing to laugh.
“What’s the matter?” she demanded. “Doctor, what’s wrong?”
He muttered something incomprehensible and she wandered in his direction across the large console room.
“What was that?” she asked sweetly. “Is something bothering you?”
He glared in her direction, but since she knew he wasn’t angry with her, she let it pass.
“Something upset you, didn’t it?” she went on, perching on the console beside him. “Was it that statue? I thought that they did a very good job. Although I would like to know what it was they wrote on it. It was too far away for me to read, but your eyes are better than mine, being alien and all that.”
The Doctor snorted and muttered under his breath again, flicking several switches with unnecessary vigor.
Donna smirked, but tried not to look too knowing as she asked him to repeat the pain-inducing phrase. “Sorry, what was that?”
He glared at her, apparently aware that she was lying, and she gave him her sweetest smile.
“I didn’t hear you.”
Several words that sounded like ‘ice cream’ made her wonder if she had misunderstood the message of the sculpture, but surely the Doctor wouldn’t be looking so upset if it was just something like that, would he?
“Doctor, unless you actually tell me,” she declared, widening her eyes in make-believe concern, “I’m going to start thinking it was something terrible. They didn’t put a curse on us or something, did they? I mean, I thought they were happy with the way we saved the day.”
“Well, they were clearly happy with what you did,” he shot back, anger making his eyes sparkle.
“Did you do something wrong then?” she asked lightly, keeping a close eye on him. “I did wonder...”
“Of course I didn’t!” he glared at her. “I just saved their stupid little planet from being turned into a Christmas factory, that’s all! And what do I get out of it? Treated like a second-class citizen! Me! The last Time Lord in existence!”
“Well,” Donna retorted briskly, the urge to giggle strengthening at his indignation, “I certainly didn’t pick that up from what was said at the feast. So I can only presume it was that little plaque that has you so upset. You’d better tell me what it says,” she added before he could reply, “because otherwise I’m going to imagine all sorts of terrible things. Come on, Doctor,” she added, taking hold of his arm to prevent him from running away, unable to help giving it a comforting squeeze, “tell me. I promise not to tease you about it. No more than I can help anyway. Just what did it say?”
With a sigh that was almost a groan of pain, his cheeks scarlet and eyes averted, the words all but exploded out of him: “Donna, the Ice Queen, and her Consort, the Doctor.”
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