Valentine’s Day isn’t supposed to be like this. Donna has a fleeting moment to think of that between all of the Valentine’s Days they are somehow visiting. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about plush hearts and teddy bears and chocolate. It’s not meant to be like this, seeing things that leave her on the verge of tears time after time.
It’s a bug in the TARDIS, the Doctor promises after they struggle back inside having watched Captain James Cook murdered by the natives of Hawaii. He'll fix it. The next place they visit won’t be Earth on February 14. And yet, somehow, it is. Time after time. Donna’s very own groundhog day. All fixed points in time. No interfering. No changing a single thing. All they can do is watch.
So much of what they have seen on their visits to one Valentine’s Day after another has been misery. The murder of Jews in Strasbourg. The massacre in Chicago that will be named for this day. Wars and battles begin and end. Students die in a massacre. Death seems to follow them wherever they go.
Still, good things happen on this day as well.
The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children is opened. Alexander Graham Bell applies for a patent for his new invention, the telephone. (The Doctor does interfere a bit by rushing that one through to beat one handed in by Elisha Gray. Just making sure things happen in the right order, he promises.) The event that will inspire a Beatles song occurs.
But even the Doctor has to admit that, at least by some measures, the good outweighs the bad.
One event is almost lost in all the others.
They save a baby. A little boy whose real parents die, but who never knows he was adopted. A little boy who will grow up to be Owen Harper. If the Doctor understands the significance of that at the time they hand the warm bundle to the mother and father who have promised to love him for their rest of their lives and his, he doesn’t say anything about it.
Back on the TARDIS, Donna vows never to celebrate another Valentine’s Day again in her life. She would rather forget that that date ever existed. She doesn’t ever want to think about it again. She is sure she can never think of that day with any joy ever again.
The Doctor is sorry, so sorry. No, he can’t explain what is so significant about that above all other dates that humans have marked out for themselves with births and deaths and weddings. Maybe one day they will learn just why that date was so important that they had to go and visit all of those moments in time, but he promises to do whatever he can to make it up to her, to make sure she doesn’t always remember the worst things about February 14.
One year later, the exact length of a Time Lord pregnancy, a baby is born. Brown eyes like his father. Red hair like his mother.
On that particular Valentine’s Day, Donna has to concede that, just maybe, there could be one or two good things about that date after all.
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