For the next two days, the Doctor partook in every single activity the Quinn family had going and asked a multitude of questions that they didn't hesitate to answer. Every answer he received was jotted down in a notebook he'd brought with him for the occasion (his notes on “Stir-Up Sunday”, in particular, filled two and a half pages); despite his repeated apologies and hopes that none of his questions were too “weird”, Emily's family had no issues replying and giving him the information he sought.
Emily, for her part, was glad to see the Doctor enjoying himself, talking to people and actually learning about the British ways of celebrating; the fact that none of her relatives found the Doctor's questions and observations offensive or even mildly annoying was also a relief.
The caroling, in particular, had gone off without a hitch; Bertram and Clint (two of Emily's uncles) had indeed joined up with the rest of the family for the endeavor, and admitted to Emily, on the way back to her parents' flat, that the Doctor had “quite the pipes on him”. In particular, he'd turned the first chorus of “Oh Night Divine” into a solo with his almost operatic vocal stylings; Hannah, of course, merely rolled her eyes and muttered that he was “just showing off”.
By the time more members of the family—cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles who'd been living abroad—arrived at the Quinn family flat, the Doctor had traded in his usual black coat for one made with a stunning dark green fabric (he'd specified “pthalo green”, when asked by Emily or anyone else in her family, ignoring Hannah's groaning that pthalo green was a color from The Joy of Painting), and his dark red vest for a more festive, brighter red one with larger gold buttons (which, as Emily's younger cousins pointed out, looked a bit like sleigh bells). He also made it a point to formally introduce himself to each new arrival, shaking their hands and wishing them a “Happy Christmas” (he'd caught on rather quickly to the fact that “Merry Christmas” was a Stateside saying), explaining his presence at the flat in a quick, concise manner. Hannah, as per usual, just rolled her eyes, but Emily found it refreshing that the Doctor went out of his way to engage with her relatives.
The only time the Doctor's good mood changed was when Emily's paternal grandfather, a veteran of World War II, arrived on the third day of his visit; without even being told the man had served in a war, the Time Lord had placed a hand on his shoulder, stared into his eyes and muttered something that Emily couldn't quite catch. Whatever he'd said, his words were met with a nod from the old man...followed by a question about why he was there, which prompted the quick return of the Doctor's more familiar smile, and yet another recital of his explanation.
Eventually, on the third day, several members of the family settled in around the TV for the Cloverdale Christmas special, which John had claimed would be “even more miserable than the last regular show”. James (Emily's grandfather) shook his head; “I dunno why you watch that guff, Jonathan,” he intoned. “Every Christmas, it gets dumber and dumber.”
“I always thought TV shows were supposed to get happier around Christmas,” the Doctor mused.
Bertram chuckled. “You've never seen the soaps around here at Christmas, Doctor,” he mused. “I'll never figure it out, but the heads of programming seem to think everyone wants to watch fictional families be as miserable as possible this time of the year.”
Clint nodded his agreement, adjusting his glasses to make sure they didn't slip off. “Last year, Jessica just missed the party boat and watched it go down in flames with about a dozen friends aboard....” He scoffed at the memory. “It'd have been a lot more tragic if they hadn't used sodding stock footage for the boat sinking....”
“The model shot was worse,” Bertram countered. “Barely even looked like the actual boat.”
“Wasn't nearly as bad as the pub fight where Graham got blinded by a billiard cue,” John reminded them. “And then the air-con unit fell out of a window and knocked Chris unconscious....something like that, falling from that height, I can guarantee that he'd have had his skull caved in.”
Emily shook her head, doing a great job of keeping a straight face as the show started.
Within the first five minutes, it was clear to the Doctor that Cloverdale, at the very least, seemed to have a particularly sadistic fondness for putting its cast into utterly depressing situations around Christmas time, with every new tragedy accompanied by a musical sting from the show's so-bad-it's-almost-good, synthesizer and guitar-ladden theme song. In just the opening few scenes of the show, Jessica (who'd survived the party boat sinking the previous year) found out her sister was being evicted, Graham narrowly escaped a mugging with his wallet intact only for his assailants to go after his girlfriend, Chris had amnesia (the Doctor groaned along with the rest of Emily's family at that “development”), and the show's female lead, Jodie, had to come to the rescue of her friends when a drunken parolee in a dingy Father Christmas costume tried to steal their car (which he did steal....and crashed, about five minutes later).
It was the show's male lead, however, who seemed to be almost supernaturally cursed to have the worst Christmas of anyone in the cast. Paul—a “brooding, thoughtful young man” who never smiled once in the episode and, in the opinion of the Doctor, frowned and scowled more than any man his age should—was subject to multiple tragedies in the first half-hour of the episode. His father had relapsed into alcoholism, his grandfather was reliving the high-speed racing crash that had killed his friend, his mother was putting up with an idiotic new husband and his abusive brother, and his sister had yet again (for apparently the fifth time) gone missing. Oh, and he was being followed around the city by a figure who never spoke, and just seemed to stare at him from a distance only to vanish when he looked away.
“Did anyone who wrote this show ever actually experience real life?” the Time Lord mused, not particularly caring that he was thinking out loud.
James actually chuckled. “If that's real life, I'll take the movies.”
The show's second half was almost as ludicrous as the first. Jodie and her friends, at the police station to file the report about the drunken would-be Father Christmas stealing and crashing the car, suddenly had to help fight off the boozing idiot when he tried to attack a policeman; Jessica's sister—in the midst of having an affair with the landlord to try and stave off her eviction—got into a “utensil fight” with the landlord's wife; Graham's decision to flag down a taxi to get his girlfriend to hospital resulted in a chase scene that was probably meant to be suspenseful but just came across as sheer stupidity (a slow-motion shot of the cab plowing through an abandoned snowman in the middle of the street gave away the fact that the driver had been swapped out for a stuntman almost 20 years younger, wearing an ill-fitting wig), and Chris, having wandered out of his psychiatric evaluation and into a random chapel, was now under the impression that he was Saint Nicholas, and swore to deliver a Christmas miracle before the day was over.
“The Sun said they were going to have him think he was Jesus Christ,” Emily's aunt Jan mused, giving a tsk-tisk at Chris' decision to throw on a ratty old robe and a pound-store mitre to walk the streets as St. Nick. “Only reason they didn't go through with it was that Offcom fielded about fifteen-thousand complaints just as they were going to start filming.”
“And they thought this was better?” John countered. “He looks like something out of a horror film!”
Of course, Paul's Christmas was substantially worse. A friend's invitation to a Christmas party across the street only led to him spending the whole time brooding, intercut with shots of the gas-burning stove whistling ominously. His father, meanwhile, went to the pub (the same one where Graham had been blinded the previous year) and got in a fight with a bunch of toughs (with a few of the more noteworthy ones being played by members of a popular football club, who were clearly there just for the extra publicity rather than their acting skills), while his grandfather kept having flashbacks to his friend's crash—and the inexplicable idea of going to the garage and staring, with a weird longing, at Paul's car. The party across the street, meanwhile, was complicated by the arrival of Paul's mother—sporting a “black-eye” that was all too obviously badly-done makeup—and her new husband's brother, who promptly demanded she leave only to be accosted by Paul's friend Bill. The mysterious figure who'd been following Paul everywhere was now watching him from across the street, with Paul's missing sister at his side.
“Anyone bet this is all going to end in a really stupid way?” Hannah mused.
“Oh, just watch,” Jan replied. “It'll be utterly naff by the time the credits roll.”
Her statement turned out to be almost too on-the-nose. The drunken lout dressed as Father Christmas ended up hit with a Tazer (wielded by a “visiting American police officer”, played by a Hollywood-type who'd been advertised for weeks as the “special guest star” for the show) and going into cardiac arrest; Jessica's sister and the landlord's wife took their brawl to an upstairs window, just as Jessica arrived at the flat—to see them both plummet from the window to the unyielding roof of a van below; the taxi bearing Graham and his girlfriend to the hospital actually arrived, only for Graham to have to contend with the thugs who'd attacked his girlfriend in the first place as she was being wheeled in; Chris stood in the middle of a street and declared that he would bring peace on earth, right before apparently being mowed down by an out-of-control car.
The Doctor wanted, more than anything, to burst out laughing at how absurd it all was. He'd seen more than his fair share of tragedies, in his travels, and he never once would've found any of them “comedic”....but Cloverdale almost felt like a parody of real life. It was melodramatic and overwrought to the point that anything meant to be sad or shocking had, instead, been presented as so over-the-top that it couldn't be taken seriously. The only reason the Time Lord didn't actually laugh was that he didn't want to offend any of Emily's family....
...but a quick look around the rest of the couch revealed that they were having the exact same reactions as he did. A few of them were shaking their heads, Jan was quietly chortling to herself, and both Clint and Bertram were actively taking bets as to the likelihood of a sudden, random explosion at some point.
John, to his credit, merely said “I bet Paul gets it the worst. Just watch.”
Lo and behold, Paul left the Christmas party to find his sister standing across the street, confused as to what she was doing there and apparently ignorant of anyone else having stood next to her—mere seconds before a final jump cut to the gas-burner on the stove at the flat where the party had devolved into a brawl between Bill and Paul's mother's new husband's brother. Seconds later, Paul stopped mid-sentence to sniff the air dramatically, his eyes going wide as he uttered the words “the gas is still on”....followed immediately by the house across the street, where the party/fight was going on, going up in a fireball that looked to have been put together by a special-effects studio who'd decided they wanted to outdo the 80s action films in terms of “cool explosions”.
Not to be outdone, Paul's father was holding his own against the thugs at the pub, until someone broke a bottle on a table, clearly intending to use it for the same reason broken bottles tend to get used in most street fights. Had the scene ended there, it might've been somewhat ominous and more than a bit tense. Instead, everyone in the pub was lit up by high-beams before the car that had run over Chris a few minutes earlier plowed into the pub, taking out all the thugs and pinning Paul's father under an overturned table.
The most ludicrous moment, however, was the end of the episode. Paul, still panicking over the possibility that this mum had been incinerated in the blast that had taken out the house across the road, got a call from “a friend” asking why he was breaking the speed limit in the city limits. Understandably confused by this, Paul replied that he wasn't even driving his car at the time, to which the friend stated “well, someone is.”
“They're not....” The Doctor shook his head, knowing exactly what was about to happen. “They're actually going to....”
The final sequence of the episode was, by far, the most bizarre of the bunch. Paul's grandfather, teary-eyed and weeping what sounded like the lyrics to a song, was speeding through town—at least, according to the jumpily-cut together bits in which the car was actually flying down the roads. Any scene of the interior of the car gave away the fact that the old man was clearly going too far under the speed-limit to be doing any damage to anything....but it was the last shot of the sequence that finally prompted everyone gathered on the Quinn family couch to finally just groan or laugh. Paul's granddad was by now screaming the lyrics (still incoherently) as the car hurtled towards the edge of a dock, and the last shot of the episode was Paul finding the empty garage, realizing what had happened and melodramatically uttering his grandfather's name....just before the car went soaring over the edge of the pier, complete with musical sting.
As if to ram home just how stupid the scene had been, the show freeze-framed on the car hovering over the icy water.
Almost on cue, everyone at Emily's parents' flat burst out groaning, laughing and/or complaining about how stupid the episode had been. The Doctor, not to be outdone, was listing off every single contrived circumstance he'd noticed over the course of the show, from the “convenience” of Paul finding his sister to the fact that Chris had only been rendered unconscious by the car plowing into him (as opposed to the more realistic—and probable—injuries that such a fast-moving impact would've caused).
John just sat back in the recliner and shook his head. “Worse than last year's,” he sighed, not caring that someone had changed the channel. “I didn't think they could make a worse show than last year's, and they did.”
“I never could understand why anyone watches that tripe,” James muttered.
The rest of the day, after the utter weirdness of the Cloverdale special, was spent in various ways. Emily pitched in to help her mum and her aunts go over the last minute details of the impending feast for Christmas Day, the Doctor quizzed various relatives on their favorite movies for that particular time of the year, and Hannah used the opportunity to “chill out” and get some much-needed relaxation. Everyone was in good spirits as they headed for bed that night, with the Doctor and Hannah returning to the “hotel” (the TARDIS, parked a few blocks away) to discuss things before turning in.
“I just hope nothing with them goes as....weirdly as it did on that stupid soap-opera,” Hannah stated. “I mean, American soaps are dramatic, but that?”
The Doctor merely chuckled. “At least we know that real life is nowhere near as bad.” He sighed, checking a few of the monitors on the central console. “As it stands, we're in no danger of having air conditioning units fall on our heads or anything that bizarre.” A yawn escaped his lips. “....and since there's apparently nothing happening anywhere that needs my immediate, undivided attention, I think I'll get some sleep.”
“Now that's a Christmas miracle for the ages,” Hannah mused, grinning. “Good night, Doctor.”
The Time Lord returned her grin. “G'night, Hannah.” He watched her head off down the TARDIS corridors for a moment or two before sighing, crossing the console room and pulling up a chair. A fedora, done up in the same shade of green as his coat, had been placed on the top-most part of the hat rack; the Doctor retrieved it as he repositioned the chair a bit closer to the console. “Merry Christmas to all,” he murmured, “and to all, a good night...”
With a sigh, he took his seat, propping his feet up on the edge of the console and positioning the fedora in such a way that his eyes were covered.
The hums and beeps of the various machines in the console room seemed to fade as he drifted off to sleep....
Across the street from where the TARDIS had parked, the air seemed to shimmer. One minute, all was calm and bright...
….the next minute, a girl in a rather distinctive set of purple-and-pink winter wear stood, regarding the TARDIS with a thoughtful look. The scarf bundled around her face hid the fact that her skin was even more distinctive than the colors of her clothes; had anyone shone a torch on her at the moment, they would've been surprised to see the light reflected by the silvery contours of her face.
“I guess it's true, then,” the girl mused. “Even the Doctor needs a break, every now and then.” Her voice was tinged with a hint of melancholy. “I just.....”
Without completing her line of thought, the girl turned and headed down the street. Few paid her any heed, despite the rather garish color combination of her clothing; unlike the Doctor, she had business to tend to in Swindon—there would be celebration, of course, but business came first.
“I just hope I'm not too late,” she murmured, turning down a side-alley—and seeming to vanish.
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