The Doctor marched right into the shop to confront the Master directly. She leaned over the counter, grabbed him by the lapels of his waistcoat, and got straight to the point. “What are the robot ducks for?” she demanded.
He stared at her blankly. “Pardon?”
She shook him. “The robot ducks. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. They’re in every major city on Earth – plus Llandudno for some reason that I haven’t figured out yet – and nobody knows where they came from. And by some amazing coincidence you happen to be on Earth as well, so it doesn’t take a genius like myself to put two and two together and come up with an alien invasion. So, tell me what you’re up to.”
The Master shook his head. “Madam, this is a Starbucks.”
She turned her head to look around the shop. It reeked of coffee and overpriced paninis, and she was being stared at by a variety of humans, most of whom held coffee cups with their names written almost-illegibly on the side. She turned her attention back to the Master. “What are you doing in a Starbucks?”
“I work here?” he ventured. He indicated the laminated name-badge he was wearing. “My name’s Oscar.”
She let go of him, confused.
“Would you like to buy some coffee?” he asked, politely.
This wasn’t going the way she had expected it to. She was the Oncoming Storm, people didn’t try to get her to buy coffee. Suddenly suspicious, she asked, “Do you by any chance own a fobwatch with a sort of circle-based design on it?”
His eyes went wide with surprise. “How did you know that?”
The Doctor sighed.
Oscar, as it turned out, was really, really nice. He was a bit like O, but hopefully without the sudden unexpected reveal after she noticed a very minor contradiction in his supposed backstory. He was a lot kinder than the Master (in that he was kind in any way whatsoever), and a lot less evil (but then so were most people), and unlike the Master he was really good-looking as well. (Which was strange, since in theory they had the exact same face and that would imply that she thought the Master was handsome, which obviously she didn’t.)
They were in a different, less crowded and probably less profitable, coffee shop, and the Doctor was trying to work out what had happened to make the Master turn himself human. Maybe he was trying to quit being evil, or maybe he wanted to experience the world in a less antagonistic way. But most likely he was hiding from someone, possibly even from her, and there would be an evil plan unfolding somewhere nearby. There was a good chance that said evil plan involved the robot ducks in the major cities (plus Llandudno), and she was trying to find out if Oscar retained any knowledge of that plan.
So far it seemed like he knew nothing, and the Doctor was angsting a bit about whether she should try to keep him like this and let him live out a brief but not evil life as a human rather than letting the Master out again to find out about the ducks. It was one of those moral dilemmas that television programmes often explored, and the Doctor found herself wishing that she had wasted more of her life binge-watching television rather than going outside with her friends like some kind of freak.
Also, Oscar had really nice eyes. She found that her mind became overwhelmed by adjectives when she looked at them, like her brain was struggling to describe them in a way that captured their full beauty.
Meanwhile, as she was thinking all of this stuff, Oscar was reaching for her hand. “Look,” he said, “I realise I’ve only known you for one day, but if anything happened to you, I’d… well, I’d be very upset. You’re an amazing person, Doctor, so full of kindness, and compassion, and…” He stopped, made a strange choking noise. He looked like he was fighting back tears.
“Oscar, are you okay?” she asked, alarmed enough that she had stopped thinking about his beautiful eyes.
“You’re so gentle and I…” He covered his mouth with his hand, shaking.
She grabbed hold of his other hand. “What’s wrong?”
“I…” He started laughing, doubling over in his chair. “I can’t do this, sorry, I just…. It’s too….”
“Can’t do what?”
Finally he managed to control his uncontrollable laughter and say, “You’re amazingly gullible, Doctor, did you know that? Oscar the barista? With his real personality in a fobwatch? Really? And he thinks you’re the best person who ever lived? Do you have any idea how hard it was to keep a straight face through all of that?”
She let go of his hand, scowling. “I hate you.”
“You liked Oscar though, didn’t you?” He winked at her. “Bit of a spark between the two of you, wasn’t there? A bit of sexual tension.”
“I don’t do sexual tension,” said the Doctor. “I just thought he was a nice person.”
“It’s the eyes, isn’t it?” he asked, conversationally. “They’re the sort of eyes that people find themselves wanting to describe at great length.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied. “Look, just tell me what’s going on with the robot ducks. What are they for? Where did they come from? What they doing in all the major cities plus Llandudno?”
“They’re an invasion force, they were built by the Cazadai.”
“Never heard of them,” said the Doctor.
“They’re not one of our more iconic monsters,” he admitted, “but they control a handful of planets out towards Andromeda.” He looked a bit embarrassed. “I’m sort of hiding from them.”
“in a coffee shop?”
“I’m stuck here, I needed a job. You probably don’t know this, but things cost money on Earth.”
“Where’s your TARDIS?”
“Delury 4. It’s a long story and a lot of people die in it, so you probably don’t want me to tell it. And there’s a really unconvincing romance towards the end that sort of ruins the whole thing anyway.” He waved a hand, dismissive. “And the Cazadai hate coffee shops, they consider them to be the most dishonourable form of commerce.”
The Doctor thought this over. “Why are you hiding from them?”
“Our professional relationship deteriorated unexpectedly due to unforeseen personality conflicts.”
She sat back in her chair. “Wait, wait, wait, did you make a deal with some aliens to take over the Earth and then they turned on you? Again?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, obviously uncomfortable with this conversation.
“I suppose now you’ll want me to help get you out of this mess? Shall we team up as temporary allies to stop the invasion you spent months planning? Work together despite our differences to save the Earth? Like we did seemingly every other week in the 1970s?” She was enjoying this now, it had gone quite entertaining.
The Master was having trouble looking her in the eye. “If you want,” he muttered.
“What was that?” she asked, pretending she hadn’t heard him.
“It might be a good idea,” he said, vaguely.
“Can’t hear you, love.”
He glared at her. “Can you please help me defeat my former allies, Doctor?” he said through gritted teeth.
She grinned. “Okay, since you asked nicely, I will.”
“Well,” she said, brightly, “at least now we know that the ducks have flamethrowers for eyes.”
Unfortunately the reason they knew this was that the Cazadai had explained how the robot ducks were going to kill them when the countdown got to zero. But they had a whole ten minutes left in which to escape and halt the invasion, which was probably plenty of time and the Doctor wasn’t actually that worried yet.
First, though, they had to work out how to untie themselves.
The Doctor considered herself – indeed, both of them – to be quite good at escapology, but they had been wedged into quite a tight space and it was difficult to move enough to make much progress. They kept brushing against each other and although the Doctor was loathe to admit it, there was a certain amount of sexual tension in the room with them.
Which was not ideal when they were trying to save themselves and the rest of the planet from robot ducks with flamethrowers for eyes. And it was unresolved sexual tension, which didn’t even make sense because surely that thing on X’kana with the sex-pollen should have resolved it? Or the thing that happened (twice) on Beta Aravera? Didn’t that count? How many times did you have to resolve sexual tension before it stuck? The Doctor sighed, frustrated in several ways at once.
“I think I’ve almost got this knot,” said the Master, very close to her ear.
“Good,” she said, trying not to notice the pressure against her thigh. “We’ve only got about six minutes left.” She couldn’t believe that she had just wasted four minutes of her life thinking about the sexual tension that she wasn’t supposed to have with the Master.
“There,” he said, a minute and a half later, as the rope fell away from his wrists. “Are you alright on your own or do you need me?”
No, she most certainly did not need him. In any way. “Get that countdown stopped,” she said, focussing on the important thing. “I’m almost done here.”
He moved away and she relaxed a bit despite the threat of the robot ducks with flamethrowers for eyes. She managed to free herself quite quickly once she didn’t have to worry about accidentally stimulating herself or anyone else.
The Doctor stopped at the door of her TARDIS. “Do you want a lift to Delury 4?”
“If you’re offering.”
“We’ll argue all the way there,” she warned him.
“That’s pretty much a given.” He shrugged. “I don’t mind, I was planning to ignore everything you said to me anyway.”
“Apparently so,” he said, with a wink of those adjective-laden eyes.
The Doctor turned the key in the lock and held the door open for him. “You can make the tea,” she said.
“As long as you don’t want coffee. I hate that stuff.”
The Doctor laughed and followed him into the TARDIS.