“I want to go to a desert planet,” said Clara, eager to see all the universe had to offer.
The Doctor hesitated. “Are you sure? They're a bit expensive.”
He looked a bit embarrassed. “Desert planets don't look much like Welsh quarries,” he explained, “so they cost quite a lot to portray.”
“I don't understand,” said Clara, who was much less meta than the Doctor. She, after all, had never even been in a crossover with Torchwood, much less appeared in adverts for computers and ice-lollies. She was so innocent about some things.
“Wouldn't you like to visit a nice Welsh quarry?” asked the Doctor. “They're very adaptable, and NASA photos of Mars do suggest that alien planets are basically quarries shot through a red filter.”
“Doctor, you're not making any sense.” Clara hated it when he didn't make sense, which meant she hated him quite a lot even though she also loved him as well. She was a complex woman, she could cope with equally complex relationships.
“We're working on a limited budget here,” said the Doctor. “We don't get much more than Eastenders and they don't have to provide alien menaces every week.”
“Eastenders is a television programme,” said Clara, worrying yet again that the Doctor had finally flipped.
“One with a standing set and a human cast,” said the Doctor. He gestured around the console room. “This is our only reusable set, you know. Everything else has to be built as required.”
“Have you never noticed that the walls sometimes wobble a bit when you slam a door or go up some stairs?”
“No,” said Clara, “I haven't.”
“Things are better than they used to be,” he said, “but I've noticed it once or twice even when there's plenty of time and money for re-shooting the scene.”
“Maybe you should have a rest,” said Clara, concerned for his and indeed her own safety. “Have a little rest and perhaps a nice cup of tea.”
“It's only water, Clara!” he exclaimed. “Tea would go cold, so they use water instead! Even the alcohol's just coloured water!”
She took a step back and tried to think sensibly about all this. None of it made any sense at all.
“And you,” he scowled, “you with your expectations of perfection and excitement. Do you think mile-wide tentacle-monsters grow on trees?”
Ah, she knew this one! He'd mentioned Kroll before. “That was the effects of the Key to Time,” she told him, “that's what made him grow so big.”
“It was just plastic!” he cried, throwing his arms wide. “Everything's just plastic!” He kicked the console and a bit of it fell off. “See? Nothing's as convincing as it should be!” He sat down on the crash-seat and buried his head in his hands. “I'm sorry,” he said, muffled by his own hands, “I'm just so tired of people laughing when the boom mike casts a shadow on something.”
Clara knelt beside him and rubbed his back. “Doctor, it's okay. Whatever you're going on about, it's okay.” She hoped she hadn't triggered one of those three-day angst-benders.
He raised his head and looked at her, eyes wet. “Once, a long time ago, there was an entire camera clearly visible in an alien jungle.”
“I'm sure nobody noticed,” she said, playing along with his delusions even though she knew you weren't supposed to do that.
“They noticed. And they noticed when that Zarbi hit the camera. And the hand holding down Sutekh's cushion. People notice these things, Clara, it doesn't matter what I do to distract them with fun and excitement.”
“There, there,” said Clara, ineffectually.
“And the Taran Wood Beast.... My God, Clara, I'm never going to live that one down.” He looked at Clara, taking her hand between his. “That's why I love Earth so much. It's cheaper, there's less that can go wrong.”
She wanted to kiss him, but she usually wanted to kiss him so it didn't necessarily mean anything. Also she kind of needed the toilet, but she could hold it in until the crisis was over. “I don't care about your budgetary limitations,” she said, kindly.
“Yes, you do,” sighed the Doctor sadly.
“I love you anyway,” she said. “Who cares if a bit breaks off the set, or if you can see the strings. You're wonderful and nothing can change that.” She paused, wondering who had put those words into her mouth. “And fluffed lines... those can make things seem more realistic in some ways.”
“Thanks, Clara,” said the Doctor. “I don't know what I'd do without you.”
She smiled. “Let's go to a nice Welsh quarry, shall we? We can pretend it's in outer space.” She helped him to stand up, and tried to shake the feeling that someone was watching her.
The Doctor seemed to have cheered up somewhat, obviously helped by her innate kindness. “I think there's still a few Cyberman costumes in storage. I might be able to manage an invasion force, as long as you never see more than a few of them at once.”
“Anything's good, Doctor,” said Clara.
And they all lived happily ever after, until Clara left because she had a career to think of. But until that happened they were fine.