The savannahs of Topaz were yellow. Not because it was the dry season–it wasn't–but because that was simply the color of Topaz plants. Most of the savannah's groundcover (you couldn't really call it "grass," not with the way it leafed out) had produced fluffy white seeds, which floated in waves on the wind. Multicolored local fliers darted after the stuff. Peri wondered if they wanted it for food or nesting material.
She was on the upper deck of a hoverbus, on what the local tour guides called a camera safari. She was leaning idly against the railing, face shadowed by a broad-brimmed white hat, thinking about colors. The hue of the savannah had given her a mild craving for lemon chiffon pie, the kind you got in tiny roadside diners from waitresses who called you "honey."
She didn't have to look up to know who had joined her at the railing. "Doctor," she said, "do you see the same colors that humans do?"
She got the Unamused Look. "For the fifty-fourth time, there is nothing wrong with my coat."
Peri suppressed a grin, hard. This morning, a rather bratty little boy had declared the Doctor to be an unfunny clown and demanded his parents find him a better one. Peri personally thought that the Doctor's expression at this was comedy gold, but there were some things you just couldn't say. Not unless you wanted to find out exactly how many synonyms the English language had for philistine.
"Actually," she said. "I was thinking about bees."
"Bees and flowers. There are some flowers that show patterns if you photograph them with ultraviolet light . . ."
"Patterns," the Doctor said, "which are generally accepted to exist for the benefit of their pollinators, specifically the honeybee, whose visual range extends into the ultraviolet. And if two species from the same planet, in the same general environment, perceive a different range of color, what then of beings born under entirely different suns? That's unusually perspicacious of you, Peri. Well done."
Peri decided that she wasn't going to waste brainpower trying to figure out if that had been a backhanded compliment or a backhanded insult. Especially since the answer was very probably yes. "Thanks," she said. "So, do you?"
"My visible spectrum is marginally broader than yours," the Doctor said, "but, for the most part–yes. That, for instance," he gestured grandly at the savannah, "looks as much like frothy lemonade to me as it no doubt does to you. Saturated colors are largely the same for both of us."
"And unsaturated ones?"
"Yes, well, we're never going to agree about certain tinctures of gray or brown, but that's less a matter of spectrum than one of emphasis. You see, Peri, your species evolved on a green planet. You hardly perceive the color unless it's supersaturated, because your primitive ancestors simply never had the need to do so. Thus, where you might see something as taupe, I often perceive it as murky olive. And when, in the fullness of time, an intelligent species arises from those cresthounds on that rock–" The hoverbus was bearing obliquely towards the animals. Peri could see where the "crest" part of their name came from, but she thought they looked as much like baboons as dogs–and behaved a little bit like baboons, too, the youngsters scrambling higher up the rock while a delegation of burly adults spread their quilled manes and bared their teeth, generally doing their best to look like tough customers. "They," the Doctor went on, "will classify your sun as a green dwarf, and wonder at all the sapient species who call things yellow when they so clearly are not. Does that answer your question?"
"Thoroughly," Peri said. "Thanks."
From his sharp glance, the Doctor wasn't certain whether thoroughly was a compliment or a slight dig. Well, let him wonder. Turnabout was fair play, after all.
Peri watched the cresthounds mock-charge the hoverbus for a moment, and then–because she really couldn't resist–asked, "What planet is your coat in fashion on? What colors do they see?"
She got another Unamused Look. Sometimes, Peri felt like she was traveling the universe with a hyper-intelligent cat. "Oh, yes. Of course. A conversation cannot simply be, with you, flitting lightly from pleasant topic to pleasant topic. It must inevitably circle back to my sartorial choices. And the answer is, it isn't."
"My coat," the Doctor said, with his best (not very good) imitation of patience, "is in fashion on exactly no planets, in precisely no time or place whatsoever. You see, fashion is at its heart a form of categorization. Dress in one way and be taken for a gentleman of leisure; choose less distinguished clothes, and one is mistaken for the janitor. On no world, in no era, will I step outside the TARDIS and have the natives say, without introduction, 'Ah, of course, you must be a scientist'–or a dentist, or a bricklayer–because my clothing defies such easy classification." He was getting louder. "Defies? Laughs at! With this," he pulled on his lapels, "I tell the universe that I will not be pigeonholed! I may not be slotted neatly into a mental folder! I have no caste, I suffer no artificial restrictions, I cannot be put in my place because my place does not exist. Kings and galley slaves are alike to me, because to me, such hierarchies are nothing! I reject them! The indefinite article does not apply to me; I am not a or an anything. This coat says that I am the Doctor, singular, unique, without substitute or equivalent or equal!" The other people on the top deck decided spontaneously, in unison, to be further away from the deranged, eye-searing shouty man. "And," the Doctor added smugly, in a slightly less parade-ground voice, "I aim to misbehave."
He said the last as if it was a quote she ought to recognize, which she didn't. Peri raised her eyebrows. "Your coat says all that."
"Yes, it does."
"It's very talkative."
"Yes, of course, I make a serious attempt to enlighten you, and what do I get? Sarcasm." He looked sulky. "Typical."
Peri considered saying, sarcastic? Who, me? but didn't think she could pull it off. "You know," she said instead, "when people stand out that much, people sometimes just bung them into the crazy category and forget about it."
"I am aware of that, thank you. I have traveled for centuries; I do have a reasonable grasp of xeno-psychology, practical as well as theoretical. In fact, there's a technical sociological term, or perhaps I should say phrase, for that very phenomenon."
"What is it?"
"'That's their problem.'"