Christmas is a time for giving. For friends, family, and laughter. For forgiveness. And sometimes, it’s a time for goodbyes.
During her youth, Dorothea Chaplet had always believed that Christmas was a time for coming together. For families who might not have seen much of each other all year. For making memories and sharing stories. A time for love and laughter. And the gifts didn’t hurt either.
But now, as an older Dorothea looked across the table in her dining room at her family – her daughter Louise; her son-in-law, Andy; and her two grandchildren, Margot and Robbie – she’d come to the conclusion that Christmas was for looking back over your life, your sorrows, and mistakes.
There had been one mistake in particular that had haunted her all her life and that mistake always meant she’d secretly brought more food than she needed. Every year, there were always three seats left empty around the table. And every year, she’d hoped that the Doctor and Steven would come back and she always raised a toast to absent friends. And then there was a chair for her dear husband, who had passed away a few years ago.
She’d never known what had happened to Steven. She and the Doctor had left him on an alien world to look after the affairs of that planet. But it had been a savage world, bleak and desolate and dangerous. And then there was the Doctor. A spritely character, who had the outward appearance of a crotchety old man but the heart of a lion, the wonder of a young child, and the mind of a hero. And she’d left him. She’d left him the moment she came back to her own time when the TARDIS had landed in the square opposite her house. She’d not even said goodbye; she’d gotten someone else to do it for her.
The sound of laughter tore her out of her reflective mood and she looked across the table to her two grandchildren. They were playing with a plastic frog that had fallen out of a Christmas cracker.
“What are you two up to?” She asked, standing up and moving behind the two children.
“Trying to get the frog into the lemonade,” Robbie laughed. He was eight.
“Loser has to eat sprouts!” Margot explained the rules. She was ten.
“Let’s have a go then,” Dorothea reached out and pushed down on the back of the frog, aiming it towards the tall glass. She released and the frog flew towards the glass. It hit the rim, inches from dropping into the drink and instead fell back down onto the table.
“Oh no, Nana, you lose,” Robbie giggled. “You’ve got to eat sprouts!”
“Good job I like them then!” Dorothea ruffled his unruly hair and popped a sprout into her mouth and chewed happily.
She kissed them both on the head and then let them carry on with their game. Picking up some of the empty plates, she took them over to the sink.
“Mum, let us do that! You sit down,” Louise called as her and Andy collected up the last of the plates and glasses.
“I’m not useless just yet!” Dorothea called back and plunged the first of the plates into the sink of hot water. As she washed it clean, she looked at the police-box ornament on the kitchen windowsill. It had been something she’d brought from a market place years ago and she’d been drawn to it because of its likeness to the TARDIS. Out of all the other police-box tat that people sold, this had been the one she’d felt a connection to, like it had been made for her.
Once again she was pulled out of her reverie by the shrill sound of the doorbell. It was a noise that cut through the house like a hot knife through butter.
“Who on Earth can that be?” Louise put down the plates and looked at the front door.
Dorothea felt hope flash across her mind. “I’ll get it.”
“Don’t worry Mum, it’s probably just carol singers, I’ll get rid of them!” Louise was out in the hallway before Dorothea could argue, instead turning back to the sink and carrying on washing plates. Andy dried them up and put them away.
There came the faint sound of talking from the hallway and then the door closed. Louise came back into the dinning room with a stack of perfectly wrapped presents.
“Who gave you that lot?” Andy asked.
“Don’t know,” Louise put the gifts down on an empty part of the table and proceeded to check the labels. “They’re addressed to us though. Some woman in a strange coat and half-mast trousers. Said they were for us.”
Dorothea frowned at the boxes and then looked back out of the kitchen window which allowed her an unobscured view of Bedford Square. Her breath caught in her throat and she could do nothing but stare.
“Mum? You alright?” Louise called.
“I need to outside for a moment.” She dried her hands and headed out into the hallway, ruffling Robbie’s hair once again.
“Mum, what’s wrong?”
Dorothea took down a long brown coat, did the waist-tie up, and slipped into a pair of easy shoes. “I’ve just seen someone I know, that’s all. I won’t be a moment.” With that, she was out of the door in a second.
Andy looked down the hallway at his confused wife. “What was all that about?”
“I don’t know,” Louise looked quizzically at the closed door.
Checking the street first, Dorothea stepped down of the high pavement and rushed across the road, a rush and thrill coursing through her like she hadn’t felt since her youth. Suddenly, she was in her early 20s again, only that time she’d been running towards a police-box on the other-side of Wimbledon Common. She had just seen a small boy get knocked down by a passing car and had to use the telephone to call for help.
The familiar form of the TARDIS stood before her now. It was larger than she remembered and tentatively she reached out, pressing her palm against the front of the box. It would be very embarrassing if this were just a police-box, some sort of retro experiment for London at Christmas.
But there was a thrumming, almost a hum coming from the box and a warmth that told her everything was going to be fine. She felt a tear roll down her cheek. It was the TARDIS. The Doctor had come back to her, nearly 60 years since she’d left him. “Doctor?” She felt the words escape her mouth in a whisper. Stepping back, she allowed herself another long look at the magnificent time-machine.
“Hello Dodo,” she heard a woman’s voice say.
Moving around the TARDIS, Dorothea saw a woman sat on a bench, under the shadow of a large willow tree. She wore a long grey coat and blue half-mast trousers which were held up with brightly coloured braces. “I’m sorry,” Dodo felt the smile leave her face. “I thought you were someone else.”
She saw the woman look at her, flicking her head so that a strand of blonde-hair moved back behind an ear. “It’s no problem at all.”
“How did you know my name?” Dorothea looked between the woman and the TARDIS and her mind formed an idea. “Are you one of his friends?”
“Sometimes,” the woman said. “He can be difficult.”
“You’re telling me. Do you know, sometimes I used to – sorry, I never caught your name.”
The woman thought on this for moment. “A little while ago, I’d have said John Smith. But now,” she laughed. “Now I suppose its Jane Doe.”
“That’s a strange name.”
“Stranger than ‘the Doctor’?”
Dorothea moved towards the empty side of the bench and sat down. “Hey now, I always liked ‘the Doctor’. There was something about it, like the TARDIS that always meant you were safe. I could call his name and know everything was going to be alright.”
“I know what you mean; there are times, though, when I curse my name.” The woman looked down at the road and then realised her mistake.
“What do you mean ‘my’?” Dorothea looked at the woman again. There was something in the woman’s eyes, something that sparkled with excitement and she had an air of energy, like barely contained electricity. It was something she hadn’t seen since. “You don’t just know the Doctor, do you? You are the Doctor… aren’t you?”
It was the woman’s turn to smile, a bright dazzling smile. “Hello Dodo,” the Doctor said.
Dorothea sat quietly for a moment, letting it all sink in. “But how? When I knew you, you were an old man.”
“An old man!” The Doctor exclaimed. “I’ll have you know he was younger than I am now.”
“Right.” Dorothea looked across the street, avoiding the Doctor’s gaze.
“I don’t think I ever did explain regeneration, did I? You’d left just before then.”
“I don’t understand.” Dorothea shook her head.
“When members of my race reach a certain point, like advanced old age or receive an injury our bodies can’t bounce back from, we can change our entire body, healing everything in the process.”
Dorothea felt a lump in her throat and then she sobbed. The Doctor was next to her in an instant, wrapping a protective arm around her and pulling her into her shoulder. “It’s alright,” the Doctor cooed. “I’ve changed quite a few times over the years, but I’m still the same person you knew. I’ve just got a new face.”
“It’s not that. How can you be here? Surely you hate me?” Dorothea choked.
“Hate you, Dodo? Never.”
“But I never said goodbye. I never had the guts to do it; I just left you at the first opportunity and I got someone else to make my goodbyes. It was a terrible thing to do. I hated myself for so many years.”
“Oh Dodo. I understand. You’d been through so much. But to have your mind taken over, to be used like that, it’s a horrible thing. I’ve had it happen a few times – it never gets any easier.”
“That was only part of it.” Dorothea pulled away and wiped the tears. “I never told you how angry I was when you let Steven stay behind. Anything could have happened and you just left him. It forced me to look around at how many times you’d put us in danger. The Ark, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, used as pawns in some game with the Celestial Toymaker. Being taken over was only the last straw; you’d seen to it that the camel’s back had been broken before that.”
The pair fell quiet. Neither knew what to say. The Doctor knew that Dodo was right; how many times had she put her unwittingly in harm’s way during their time together? How many times had she done that to all of her companions? They weren’t all lucky like Dodo. Not all of them got to go home.
“You’re right. I put you in danger. But it was never willingly and I was young then too. I may not have looked it to you, but I was naïve, and I wanted to believe in the others around me. I got wiser as the centuries went on. Just about. But everything we did, all those adventures, how many people get to live that kind of life? There were a few hiccups along the way. But we went to New York and Tombstone Arizona. We saw the remnants of the human race fleeing a dying Earth, alien beings and alien worlds. Do you want me to apologise for all that time?”
Dorothea shook her head. “Of course I don’t. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything but there was the Celestial Toymaker, the Boer War, a deadlier version of Revolutionary France… Maybe some people are built for that kind of danger, and as exciting as it all was, I wasn’t. You didn’t seem to see it. And even worse than that was that I was absolutely terrified of you. You left Steven so easily, I guessed it was only a matter of time before you left me behind like that too.”
The Doctor looked down at her boots, fidgeting uncomfortably; it wasn’t the first time a friend had said something similar to her. “But you never said anything. You were always so cheery, so full of life and zest. I never knew you felt that way. I knew some of our time together was marked with pain and loss but we were a team, saving peoples and planets. I thought you liked that. I didn’t know I frightened you. For that, I’m so very sorry.”
Dorothea looked across at her former friend; there had been so much that had been left unsaid for all those years. She finally felt a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She took a deep breath. “I think of you all the time. There was the spaceship that crashed into Big Ben, the replica of the Titanic that nearly crashed into Buckingham Palace. Those dreadful Dalek things,” Dorothea’s voice trailed off. “No matter how bad things got, no matter how scared I was for my family, I always held onto the belief that somewhere you’d be around, ready to sort everything out. Earth’s security blanket, ready to tuck us in after a nightmare.”
“That Dalek affair was a bit touch-and-go in the beginning.”
“I remember them being at the end of the street, ordering people outside. I heard about people and families who disobeyed them. They were…” She couldn’t finish that sentence, but then, she didn’t need to.
“I lost a good friend that day but I promise nothing like that will ever happen again. Not to any of you.” The Doctor placed her arm around her old friend again.
“I’m sorry. Did your friend die?”
“Only her memories of me. I had to wipe her mind; she’d have died if I hadn’t, but a part of me died that day too.”
“Does she get a visit at Christmas?”
“Oh yeah, and I still see her Grandfather. You all get a visit at Christmas. You were just lucky though – I don’t normally hang around. I was never any good at goodbyes either. But that reminds me, did Margot like the skateboard?”
Dorothea felt her voice stick in her throat. Margot had gotten a skateboard last year but no one knew who from. The card had just been signed “From Your Eternal Friend.”
“That was you?” Dorothea saw the Doctor smile. “She loves it! She still falls off it more than she can actually ride it though.”
“Well, just give her a few years and then she’ll surprise you. Do you know, she wins–” the Doctor stopped again. “Sorry, spoilers. You’ve still got all that to look forward to, haven’t you?”
Dorothea had travelled with the Doctor long enough to understand about the complexities of time-travel. One wrong word at the wrong moment and the future could change. She let the comment drop. She already knew Margot would be a star. She didn’t need the Doctor’s confirmation.
“What about you?” the Doctor asked. “What did you do after you left me?”
Dorothea shrugged. “I milled around for a bit, did some work here-there-and-everywhere. I met my husband and travelled with him. He was a journalist, so we normally went wherever the story was… I miss him so much.”
“And you managed to find time to have all of this?” The Doctor pointed to Dorothea’s house and all that the house meant.
“I suppose I did.”
“If you hadn’t left me when you did, you wouldn’t have any of that,” the Doctor said.
“I suppose I wouldn’t have.”
“I’ve never been prouder of you,” the Doctor continued. “Of course, you’re all brave and kind and just. All my companions have taught me something different. But I’ve always had the upmost respect for you all afterwards. This life, the house, the loved ones, mortgages and bills. Everything that comes with being human. Everything that I can’t ever have.”
“Are you on your own?”
The Doctor shook her head. “No. Tried that – didn’t like it. It seems I pick up friends easily! I just dropped the fam off for a nice Christmas dinner. My gift to them. You all get gifts, every year, even if you don’t know its from me.”
“Like Father Christmas?”
“Who’s to say I’m not?”
Dorothea smiled. Three figures began to approach from the road opposite and the Doctor put her hand across her eyes to block the weak sunshine from her eyes. “Ah, here they are: my gang!”
Dorothea squinted against the sunlight and saw the figures come into view. There was a young woman, young man, and older man.
“Dodo, this is Graham, Yaz, and Ryan.”
“Is everything alright?” Yaz asked, standing tall and proud.
“Everything’s fine, Yaz. Everyone, this is Dorothea; she used to travel with me when I was a young man.”
“Hello Dorothea,” Graham held out his hand and the older woman took it. “Doc, that dinner was amazing. I’ve had quite a few Christmas dinners over the years but none could beat that one!”
“I’m glad you liked it Graham. Merry Christmas.”
The Doctor stood up and unlocked the TARDIS. Graham gave Dorothea another smile and Ryan waved as they both entered the machine.
Yaz stayed behind for a moment until she thought the Doctor was out of ear-shot. The Doctor meanwhile pretended to inspect the paintwork of the box. “What was it like when you were with the Doctor?”
Dorothea took a deep breath in. “It was empowering and exciting. The Doctor taught me things about myself I hadn’t known. It was scary and exhilarating. I’m sure you know all about that by now though.”
“Tell me about it!” Yaz laughed. “She’s shown me there is so much more to life than just what’s here. Sure, it can be dark and scary at times, but some of the things I’ve seen – robots, alien planets, my own family before I existed. Back in history and far into the future. And I’ve met Rosa Parks!”
Dorothea smiled. “That sounds amazing! It’s a life that we should feel privileged to be part of.”
“Sometimes, I wake up and can’t believe what I’m doing. I don’t ever want it to end.” Yaz saw the smile leave Dorothea’s face.
“I used to think that too. I don’t think I ever felt as alive as I did when I was with the Doctor. But promise me something: don’t be afraid to leave her, will you? Don’t be like me. I left and hated myself for years. Don’t be like that. I know what it feels like – that something will never end. But it will do, one day. Something better will come along and don’t miss out on those opportunities. Don’t ever regret moving on; it’ll be one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.”
“Why don’t you come with us?” Yaz asked, her hands on Dorothea’s shoulders.
The older woman caught the Doctor’s eye. “That’s a young person’s game. I couldn’t do it now. Besides, I couldn’t say goodbye again. It’s taken me nearly 60 years to summon up the courage to do it once.”
“I understand.” Yaz turned away and headed for the TARDIS. “Thanks for the advice. It was great meeting you; not often we meet old friends of the Doctor’s.” She gave a Dorothea a friendly wave before heading inside the police box.
The Doctor kicked aside a small stone. “Well, this is it.”
“I suppose it is,” Dorothea stood next to the TARDIS doors. “Thank you Doctor. I wouldn’t have missed any of it. Not for anything.”
“Oh, Dodo. I was my pleasure.” The Doctor pulled the older woman for a tight hug. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too. It was fun though, wasn’t it? All those things we saw and did.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side,” The Doctor let Dorothea go and headed towards the TARDIS. “I nearly forgot – it’s been a while since you’ve seen this.” She pulled a strange device from one of her coat pockets and the light on the top of the police-box gave out a pulse of energy. Dorothea followed the energy pulse as it headed into the sky and broke the grey clouds that hung low over London. She felt the first snowflake hit her face and she smiled.
“A white Christmas after all, eh?” The Doctor said. “Goodbye Dodo.”
Dodo looked back to the Doctor. “Goodbye Doctor. And good luck.”
The Doctor stepped back into the TARDIS and closed the door. Dodo stepped away and watched as a wheezing, groaning sound accompanied the TARDIS dematerialising away. The flash from the light hung in the air for a moment before that, too, vanished.
Dodo stood alone, facing Bedford Square, staring at the space where the TARDIS had once been. “Safe travels.” A smile across her face. A tear that fell down her face.
“Mum?” Louise rushed across the road and stood next to her mother, seemingly oblivious to the snow now falling heavily around her. “Who was that?”
Dodo wiped the tears from her face. She looked at her daughter and hugged her. “That was a very old friend. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again but I wish her the best of luck wherever she is now.” She pulled her daughter away from her embrace. “Shall we go inside? It’s started snowing and I reckon Margot and Robbie will be dying for a snowball fight!” She let out a laugh as she crossed back over the road and headed back into her house. Casting one last glance back to where the TARDIS had been – the snow had just begun to fill the space it had once occupied – she smiled and closed the door. Wherever the Doctor was, there was bound to be danger, laughter, and plenty of running. Christmas is a time for friends, family, and laughter. For forgiveness.
And, yes, sometimes, it’s a time for goodbyes.