Jo was spending the holidays with her family, of course. It didn’t occur to her that she needed to ask for a leave of absence now that she was a proper UNIT agent until Mike Yates mentioned something about intending to go skiing in Scotland with a friend, and that the Brigadier hadn’t signed off his request yet. Hastily, Jo wrote a request as well, but then she realised she had no idea of what the Doctor might be planning. She found him busy tinkering with Bessie and mostly talked to his legs while the rest of him was under the car, doing only he knew what to the yellow oldtimer.
“…You don’t mind, do you? Me going away for Christmas?”
The noises from below Bessie sounded negative. She frowned, as something else struck her.
“Doctor,” Jo said, “what are you going to do at Christmas?”
His head emerged, looking somewhat greasy. “Jo, I have neither the inclination nor the need to participate in your arcane human rituals,” the Doctor said in a clipped voice. “It will be a time of rare peace and quiet which I shall treasure accordingly.”
She had been his assistant for a few months now, and while she still had trouble labelling the various test tubes he used, she had no trouble at all reading him. Jo marched off to see the Brigadier, who was in his office, practically buried in requests from UNIT personnel, all of whom wanted to be home for the holidays.
“You will get your leave, Miss Grant,” he said when he spotted her, sounding somewhat exhausted and a bit cross.
“Thank you, Sir,” Jo replied and smiled at him, “but that’s not why I’m here. It’s just, we’re all leaving for the holidays, aren’t we? I will, and Sergeant Benton, and Mike, and I’m sure you will, Sir, so that will leave the Doctor all alone with the tea lady and the emergency staff. Now you know that can’t be good for him, Brigadier, you know it won’t!”
“I pity the tea lady already,” the Brigadier muttered. “Miss Grant, I doubt he’ll notice we are gone unless he needs something, and frankly, buying some new gadget can wait until after Boxing Day.”
“He’ll be grumpy and alone and won’t admit he misses us and then when we return he’ll be in a terrible mood,” Jo said without any doubt. She would never have dared to argue with the Brigadier about strategy, but this was her territory.
“As opposed to…?” the Brigadier asked, with a raised eyebrow. She remembered there had been a recent quarrel involving the Doctor making a scathing statement about military intelligence being a contradiction in terms and barely restrained herself from sighing.
“Sir, one of us should invite him. I would, but my uncle will be there, and it won’t be five minutes before he gets into an argument with the Doctor…”
Which would be bad for UNIT. Uncle Bertie, who had gotten her the job in the first place, was on the board controlling the budget for the British branch. He was a dear if you knew him, but he had a terrible temper and some very old fashioned attitudes. All in all, it had been good practice for her, but Jo had no illusions about her ability to soothe two mighty egos at the same time. She was good, but no miracle worker. The Brigadier caught on immediately.
“Quite,” he said, looking disturbed and pensive at the same time. Jo felt it was time for her killer argument.
“If he gets bored because he has no one to talk to during the holidays,” she said meaningfully, “he’ll find trouble. He always does when he is bored. And you know what that means, Sir.”
“Alien invasions or the Master,” the Brigadier said, and something in his eyes shifted. Jo pounced.
“Or both. And it would be horrible if they came at Christmas, wouldn’t it, Sir?”
“No self-respecting alien would invade at Christmas, Miss Grant,” the Brigadier protested, but she knew she had him.
“Invite the Doctor, save the world,” Jo said.
The Brigadier was a dedicated man; his sense of duty and responsibility could hardly be bettered. Nonetheless, he was a married man, and ever since UNIT had been established, his wife had seen less and less of him. He could imagine her face when telling her they wouldn’t even have some time for themselves during the holidays, and it was not a pleasant idea. Nonetheless, Jo Grant had made some good points, and it would be unfair to delegate the Doctor to Benton or Yates, both of whom had made their own plans for Christmas already. No one else at UNIT was familiar enough with him to be an acceptable host, thought the Brigadier and then brightened when amending this definition to “no one else currently at UNIT”. He asked for a connection to Oxford, to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.
“Why, Alistair,” Liz said when she heard his voice, sounding amused, “this is a surprise.”
He cleared his throat. Truth to tell, he had missed her, and yet had been somewhat glad she was gone. His feelings for Liz Shaw had not had the strict neutrality that was suitable for his position or his status as a married man, though he had never allowed himself more than the very occasional guilt-ridden thought.
“This is about the Doctor,” he said, and he could hear the smile in her voice when she replied “Of course it is.”
After he had sketched out the problem for her, she said “Well, I would love to help, but I won’t be in England at Christmas. There is a conference in Austria near a skiing resort, and frankly, I won’t be there alone.”
“I understand,” the Brigadier said regretfully, and after some more pleasantries hung up. A petty, unworthy part of him wanted to buy the Doctor skiing equipment and send him to Austria to meet Liz Shaw and whoever the lucky fellow was who had managed to secure a conference-cum-holiday with her. The Doctor with his addiction to speed and risk would love it, would find trouble, and would undoubtedly drag Liz into it, leaving her new suitor to fend for himself. In order to bury this unwanted impulse as quickly as possible, he sought out the Doctor to convince himself Jo Grant had been wrong to begin with, and that the Doctor would manage to pass the holidays unbored and no more grumpy than usual, involved in some experiments, which hopefully would not result in blowing UNIT’s Sussex HQ up.
He found the Doctor in his lab, doing nothing, staring at the TARDIS, a somewhat forlorn expression on his face.
“I know, old girl,” the Doctor muttered. “I know. I miss it, too.”
What the Brigadier knew about the circumstances that kept the Doctor and his blue police box on Earth wasn’t all-encompassing, but he had been told the essentials and had figured out much of the rest. He also knew his scientific advisor would vanish as soon as that box of his worked again; the Doctor had tried it often enough. As exasperating as the man could be, this would be a loss, and not just because UNIT had yet to run out of strange cases to encounter and the Doctor tended to be extremely helpful in these kind of situations. One tends to get used to people, the Brigadier thought, and made some noise to indicate his presence.
“Well, Lethbridge-Stewart, don’t just hover at the door,” the Doctor said impatiently, his wistful expression gone. “I was waiting for you. Don’t worry, I know all about it, old chap.”
“Oh, really,” the Brigadier said wryly while still debating with himself whether or not to risk his strained marriage by an invitation. The Doctor made an airy gesture and put on his velvet coat.
“I’ve lived with humans before, you know,” he said. “There is just one reason why Jo keeps bringing up this Christmas business. She thinks I’ll forget to give her a present otherwise.”
“Really,” the Brigadier said again, sarcasm more evident this time.
The Doctor looked at him. “I did my research,” he said. “Christmas. Presents. And some fights to the death in front of ghastly warehouses.”
“Doctor,” the Brigadier asked as a horrible possibility dawned, “you’re not asking me to take you on a shopping trip to London, are you?”
The Doctor pursed his lips and looked somewhat insulted.
“Brigadier, I thought you knew better by now than to offer me money.”
No, thought the Brigadier, just cars, laboratory equipment and pretty assistants, and resisted the temptation to say so out loud.
“I already have a present for Jo,” the Doctor continued, “and… some other people. That’s why I was waiting for you. Could you find some excuse to get everyone in here before they leave next Friday?”
“Jo, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton and yourself.”
That settled it. “Doctor,” the Brigadier said, “would you consider spending the holidays at my home?”
The silence that greeted his question left him imagining his wife’s face again, and a weekend full of arguments and awkwardness, in the best case, and at worst some genuine pain on her part about being put second again.
“Thank you” the Doctor said, sounding unexpectedly gentle. “But I do have other plans. You’ll see.”
Ian and Barbara, teachers that they were, had tried to keep some sort of calendar for their personal time on board the TARDIS, which he had found amusing. Human holidays and the order in which he could choose to experience them, or not, were as arbitrary as festivals in the belt of Orion, and he definitely had no intention of honoring any Gallifreyan holiday, not now. But living in a linear fashion again, for a little more than a planetary year now… it did something to the Doctor, and he knew it. It wasn’t that he actually cared about their festivities, but they did, and they were his hosts. He just wished he could choose to visit. Visit and leave, and return, yes, but not because he had to. Ah, well. What he could do, though, was to compromise. He would show them that he was grateful in a fashion consistent with their customs, but in a way that didn’t make him feel like a beggar or a prisoner thanking his wards. So he abandoned his initial idea of taking Bessie and making a run for it while they were all gone, driving through the roads of this small island as fast as late 20th century building could possibly allow, and talked to the TARDIS instead. She was as earthbound as he was, and neither of them had a complete mind, but if she could not journey through time and space, she was intact in most other regards, and fulfilling his requests gave her something to do.
Jo and the Brigadier had seen the console room before, though Benton and Yates had not, so when he opened the TARDIS door once the Brigadier had ushed everyone in the laboratory, they were somewhat surprised. None of them had seen anything beyond the console room, and when the Doctor led them through the first door, a nervous silence fell, until Jo interrupted it, sounding joyful and awed at the same time.
“Oh, you did it, Doctor! Why haven’t you told me before?”
“No, Jo,” the Doctor said regretfully, “I haven’t done it. We’re still on Earth. This is all an illusion.”
They appeared to be standing on an asteroid consisting of diamonds, looking directly into space; he had chosen the Laburnian Nebula, where the light from the stars filtered primarily red and blue, and the TARDIS had recreated it faithfully.
“It’s beautiful,” Jo said, and Mike Yates asked: “Is this where you’re from, Doctor?”
He knew that Yates probably meant his home planet, but he wilfully misunderstood the question. “Yes,” the Doctor said. “This is the cosmos. You are sharing your world with me, and in return, I wanted to show you something of the universe.”
They stood around him, turning in every direction, marvelling at the stars, and in the reflection of their amazement, he could remember something of his own wonder when he had visited this region of space for the first time. The Brigadier, ever observant, was the first to notice something. “That constellation is changing,” he said, pointing towards the heart of the Laburnian Nebula.
“Yes,” the Doctor agreed. “It usually takes a millennium or so for human eyes, but the TARDIS is showing it to you as I saw it when I was there.”
Benton and Yates gasped. Jo took his hand. The corners of the Brigadier’s mouth twitched. “Now you’re just showing off, Doctor.”
“Maybe,” the Doctor agreed, squeezed Jo’s hand and then let go so he could produce what he had hidden in his long sleeves. Crystal fragments which had captured the light of the Laburnian Nebula on an asteroid which had long since turned to dust. Susan had collected them when they had been there, before they ever came to Earth. “Something from the heart of a star,” the Doctor said, and used the sleight of hands he had picked up in his second body to produce one crystal out of Jo’s hair, another from Yates’s ear and one between the buttons of Benton’s uniform jacket. When he turned to the Brigadier, he paused and looked pointedly at the man’s moustache. The Brigadier’s eyes narrowed as everyone followed suit, half in the expectation of seeing the moustache turn into crystal, fall off or have another star fragment appear on top of it.
“Doctor,” the Brigadier said warningly.
“Open your left hand,” the Doctor said, delighted that his distraction had worked, and when the Brigadier did, he found the last crystal splinter. “For Mrs. Lethbridge-Stewart, with my compliments for her patience,” the Doctor said. “Merry Christmas, everyone.”