Doctor Who: A Leadworth Christmas
By Adam J Purcell
The family of three crossed the road, dodging between the almost stationary traffic. The car lights overpowered the feeble Christmas street decorations of the small High Street. It was a bitterly cold and rather drizzly mid-December afternoon. At just gone 5pm it was already pitch dark and the Saturday shoppers hugged the all too narrow pavements.
A tiny collection of shops were dominated by one hardware store that sold a little bit of everything, the closest the sleepy village would ever come to having their own, miniature, Woolworths. The family approached that shop, single file against the crowd, with the short, slightly round father leading the way to ensure they could cut through the human traffic without being forced into the road.
The mother of the family, at the back of the line to keep an eye on her daughter, muttered something under her breath about wishing they’d hurry up and finish that bypass.
A big, clearly hand drawn poster on the window of their destination gave the promise of meeting ‘Father Christmas in his Grotto’. The little girl seemed singularly unimpressed with the prospect but knew it was her parents’ way of cheering her up.
Only a short queue was to be found leading into what was little more than a tinsel and crêpe paper covered tent in the corner of the shop. The girl looked around at that shop as she queued, with an air of mild disdain and barely contained exasperated impatience.
Soon enough it was her turn, the last in the queue as they began shutting up the shop. Her parents paid a young woman, who was dressed in a rather poor elf costume, and they waved their daughter into the ‘Grotto’.
“Ho, ho, ho!” said a man in a Father Christmas outfit and possibly the worst fake beard ever created. To further the sorry image he was sat on a plastic garden chair, mostly covered with an old red curtain to create his ‘throne’. The little girl looked on, slightly pitying, but otherwise didn’t approach.
“What’s the matter, Amelia? This is your first Christmas in England, isn’t it?” said the young/old man in the fake beard.
“Yes, it’s rubbish.” the girl snapped back, clearly it was a raw nerve.
The man looked sad. After a moment he pulled a little stool around in front of himself and indicated for her to sit. Slightly grumpily, she did.
“Believe me, I know what you’re feeling. Once, a long time ago, I had to leave my home and nearly everyone I knew. All my friends and most of my family, no idea when, or even if, I’d ever see them again.”
She just looked at him, her eyes looking big and sad.
He gave her a benevolent smile, somehow tinged with a true affection. “You’ve only been at your new school for a short while. Have you made any new friends yet?”
“No.” she replied shortly, her Scottish brogue seemingly thicker than normal on that one sharp word.
“I’m sure your parents told you you’d find new friends. They are right. I wandered for years, a lonely old man, my granddaughter as my only companion. She tried everything to cheer me up and force me to make new friends.” Now it was his turn to look sad and also reflective. His mood instantly broke with a wide smile. “Eventually I did make new friends. Brilliant friends, the best of friends.”
“Years? I just want to go home. To Scotland. I don’t know why Mum had to take this job...”
“It won’t be years for you, don’t worry. In the New Year term I hear there’s somebody else new starting. A boy who’s just about to move into the area, too.”
“From Scotland?” she said, a hopeful smile finally breaking the glumness of her face.
“No, I’m afraid not.” her face fell as he continued, “Don’t worry, I know you’ll be the best of friends. The times you’ll have, the places you’ll visit... You mark my words!”
“You’re not even real - there’s no such thing as Father Christmas. What do you know?”
“Well, okay, I might be standing in for him but he is real.” he fumbled around in one of the big baggy costume pockets and pulled out a photo. “See! That’s me and Father Christmas or Santa, or Jeff as I call him. And that’s... oh, it doesn’t matter.” She was unimpressed.
“And that’s the worst beard I’ve ever seen.”
He sighed before admitting “It does itch quite badly... How about a bit of magic to cheer you up and give you hope?”
“I hate magic.”
“Believe in magic, Amelia.” Seemingly from nowhere he produced what almost looked like a metal wand and held it aloft. Images of incredible vistas seemed to overlay the tawdry grotto and despite their ethereal quality they somehow seemed more real and certainly more compelling than what lay beyond.
Amelia gazed in awe, it was nothing like her seven year old eyes had ever seen. She had no idea how long they sat there, looking at impossible landscapes and unbelievably beautiful starscapes.
“That’s not the real magic, though.” The images faded away. “Soon, around Easter, you might start to imagine you have two sets of memories. Accept them. Whatever you do, though, remember your family aren’t really gone. Your parents will still be there, in the other room.”
She frowned at him, none of this was making sense anymore.
“And there’s somebody else out there, looking for you. A little girl who will mean a lot to you, if only she could find you...”
A portly man poked his head into the tent. “Amelia? Are you alright, you’ve been in there a long time?” her father asked.
“Yeah” she said slightly absently, wondering what to make of the nonsense from the fake Santa, still slightly stunned by the images.
“How about a nice big photo for the local Leadworth paper?” the strange young/old man in the grotto asked. “In big letters: Father Christmas and Amelia Pond” smiling broadly as he held his hands out, as if holding the caption in the air.
With the photo taken, Amelia’s parents lead her out of the tent. At the last moment she turned to look at the man. He gave a little nod and said “If you ever need me, just call.”
“Thanks, Santa.” she smiled, starting to wonder if this strange magical man wasn’t really who the crude poster suggested he was after all, fake beard or not.
As soon as his visitors had left the tent, he discarded the stuffed red coat, fake beard and hat, rubbing at his large but slightly itchy chin. He smoothed down his tweed jacket and straighted his bow tie. For a second he looked down at the Santa hat, as if on the brink of finding new hope but then discarding it, no escape. With a renewed but sad resolve, he picked up the camera with one hand and with the other reached behind the ‘throne’ to grab a hidden Stetson.
Easing the Stetson onto his head, he peeked through the slight gap in the tent door, at the family making their way out of the closing shop. “We had the best of times. All of that is still to come for you. Live well. Love Rory and your daughter.” He paused. “Goodbye.” he said sadly.
He looked down at the camera in his hand and whispered to himself,
“Merry Christmas, Pond.”