Series: Altered History
Genre: Doctor Who
Rating: T/M (attempted murder, emotionally constipated characters)
Summary: The Library left a mark on both Eight and Donna. They each realized they had feelings for the other, but felt unable to act on them. How will meeting Agatha Christie and his nearly dying change their dynamic?
Disclaimer: Utterly not mine. Just taking things from canon, mixing in Big Finish stories, and adding a healthy dose of my imagination.
Dedication: cassikat, for getting me interested in the Eighth Doctor in the first place. tardis_mole for being an awesome beta. And bas_math_girl for encouraging me to continue the series and keep posting.
Author's Note: Started during NaNoWriMo when I suddenly found “Echos on Oodsphere” finishing two chapters sooner than I expected (leaving one flashback bit out in the original draft), and to keep me going. I had to figure out on the fly what else I needed to write, and figured out later where the ideas would fit.
Once again, please make sure you've read the earlier installments: The Runaway Bride, Prophecies and Pompeii, Echoes on Ood Sphere, and Time Trials. Otherwise you'll have no context for why Donna is traveling with Eight.
Originally, I was not going to include “The Unicorn and the Wasp” as one of the DT-era stories moved into this series. However, when the flashbacks in the last story stopped naturally at the end of “The Christmas Invasion” and did not continue to the needed final flashbacks, I knew I needed one more story. So the idea from my beta of using some brief flashbacks of things needed to show the evolution of Eight and Donna's relationship turned into a full-blown story. I think it works better this way, because it prepares for the rest of the series. I did rewatch the episode before posting, to catch any details I previously missed. Mind, the American DVDs have terrible closed captioning for the episodes; a lot of lines are presented incorrectly.
And this is not Eight's first time investigating a murder. If you can get hold of a copy of “Max Warp,” I highly recommend it. It's basically “Top Gear in space meets Agatha Christie”. PM's own description of the story.
Canon Error Reset Alert Note: You might have noticed that I developed a habit of giving the date for when a chapter is set wherever possible. Well, when I looked up when Agatha Christie disappeared so I could give the date, I was stunned to learn that RTD allowed a writer to place it during the summer and not the near winter when it actually happened. I know Doctor Who is known for bad writing, but this made me face-palm myself. So... I'm adjusting the setting to the historical date, and adjusting the events and scenes as needed. Also, the sheer number of historical research fails were abnormally high in this episode even for Doctor Who. Hence a lot of adjustments in addition to the season change.
Altered History: Chasing Unicorns and Wasps
Started November 22, 2018
Finished January 6, 2019
Chapter One: Arriving at a Party
Time and Date Unknowable
It was very quiet inside the TARDIS as her two occupants worked together on the controls. Quiet was not uncommon when Donna was learning more about piloting the ship, but there were usually some casual comments being tossed back and forth. Conversation was never limited to needed adjustments for the journey.
At length, they landed.
“So... where exactly are we?” asked Donna. “What's out there?”
“Let's see,” the Doctor answered, looking at the screen. “Hmm. Apparently the year is 1926. We've landed in the countryside of England.”
“Really? Her random setting brought us to another time in Earth's past? Why? What trouble has she found?”
“All good questions, Donna. But the air seems healthy, although you'll want a coat or jacket. It's not snowing, in case you were about to ask. Shall we investigate?”
“Yes.” She went to grab the thick jacket she kept on the coat rack the TARDIS created for them near the doors. “Maybe there will be some fun out there at the same time.”
He frowned as he put on the satchel. “Don't we always manage to have some fun on most adventures? And have at least a few laughs during the rest?”
Donna smiled wryly as she finished putting on her jacket. “Well, yes,” she agreed as he led them outside. “It's not like you go looking for trouble. I've learned that much about you.”
“You're being kind,” he said, hoping his smile wasn't as nervous as he felt.
“I'm only brash when the occasion calls it.”
He laughed. “That's true.” He looked around as he closed the doors behind them. “Oh, smell that air. Grass and lemonade. And a little bit of mint. A hint of mint. You don't get that mixture of smells outside of the nineteen twenties.”
“You mean to tell me that you can tell what year it is just by smelling?”
“Well, within a certain range, yes.” After all, he saw no reason to give her more room to tease him.
Donna snorted. “Or maybe that big vintage car coming up the drive gave it away.”
They watched as an open-topped tourer turned on the gravel in front of the manor house, whose grounds the TARDIS had landed in. The driver, a male wearing goggles and a hat of the era, sounded the horn. The sound was utterly distinctive for the era.
The Doctor and Donna hurried to hide behind a wall and some shrubbery, and saw two servants come out, the butler and a footman. As they did, the Doctor said, “Good identification, Donna. The year ranges went from 'Victorian' to 'Veteran' to 'Vintage'. Many in your time would call 'Vintage' cars 'Veteran' cars instead.”
“Yeah, and all of those are pretty much only seen in museums,” she whispered as they reached the wall. “Then it goes to 'Post-Vintage', 'Classic', and then 'Old'. I say that last one should be split into 'Rare' and 'Old'.”
“The Professor's baggage, Richards,” commanded the butler, unknowingly interrupting them. “Step lively.”
The driver got out and removed his goggles. As he walked away from the car, the butler greeted him. “Good afternoon, Professor Peach.”
Professor Peach nodded. “Hello, Greeves, old man.”
The chime of a bicycle rang, and a younger man in a vicar's garb rode up the lane.
“Ah, Reverend,” greeted Professor Peach, just as he reached Greeve's side.
The Reverend nodded with a grin as he drew up near them both. “Professor Peach. Beautiful day. The Lord's in his heaven, all's right with the world.”
“Reverend Golightly,” Greeves acknowledged after Golightly got off his bicycle, and motioned for a footman to take the bicycle into proper storage. “Lady Eddison requests you make yourselves comfortable in your rooms. Cocktails will be served in the sun room from half past one.”
“You go on up,” Professor Peach said to Golightly. “I need check something in the library.”
Golightly was plainly curious. “Oh?”
“Alone,” the Professor added, pointedly.
Golightly frowned as they walked inside. “It's supposed to be a party. All this work will be the death of you.”
From their hiding place, the Doctor and Donna each mused silently over what they heard. Donna was beaming.
“Never mind Planet Zog. A party in the 1920s, that's more like it.”
“Zog would be more fun. But the trouble is, Donna, we haven't been invited.”
She turned a glare on him.
He grinned. “Oh, I forgot. Yes, we have,” he corrected smoothly, holding up the Psychic Paper.
Her smile only grew bigger than before. “Yes! Now to change to fit in. Will you?”
“Oh, I think I can make this work. It fits in well enough. You'll cover for us both.”
She snorted. “Fine. Then wait for me outside the TARDIS. No getting a look.”
As she hurried back, he was glad that she didn't see his increased nervousness. Whereas she was more making sure that he remembered the boundaries of respect; things were too blurry between them as it was.
“How long does it take to change into period clothing?” the Doctor grumbled after what felt like far too long. Donna had never taken this long for any of the period outfits before. He finally knocked on the TARDIS door. “We'll be late for cocktails. Surely you want to make that,” he called to her, hoping the Old Girl would make his words audible for Donna.
Luckily for his sanity, Donna emerged and closed the doors behind her. She had found a beaded, mostly brown dress suitable for the period. Her hair was pulled back into a bun with little touches that only enhanced her hair. Evidently the act of dressing up made her glow, and even though the dress was not the most flattering the era could offer for someone of her figure (and the color was the worst part of it for her complexion, in his opinion), she still carried it off beautifully. Yet the light cardigan, which was acceptable given the unusually warm temperature, managed to both flatter the dress and her with its rose-colored Aran-knit and glass buttons. The Doctor found himself staring at her in shock.
Donna's grin barely faded when she noticed his stunned reaction. Although she struck a pose to hide her own nervousness. “What do you think? Flapper or slapper?” Yet she added a little glance at him that even nervousness could not prevent from being flirtatious.
He finally found a big smile. “Flapper. You look lovely.”
A blush crossed her face before she could stop it. But all she did was accept the arm he silently offered, and let him lead her towards the sounds of the party starting. Swinging her little fan in her other hand offered a little distraction from the tingling she felt over their contact. And from the hint that he had also shivered a little when she took his arm.
“It was the strangest thing,” Donna said. “This dress kept appearing before me. I had the feeling that the TARDIS wanted to show me other items, but something interfered.”
The Doctor paled as they walked. “Why would She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named want to interfere with your clothing choices?”
“I was hoping you might know,” she said, her voice at a whisper. “Unless it was the other way around?”
Luckily for their embarrassed sensibilities, they ran into a footman who promptly summoned the butler they saw earlier. “Good afternoon...?”
The Doctor was ready with the psychic paper. “Hello, Greeves. I believe we are expected.”
Greeves looked at the paper and accepted what he saw. “Very good, Doctor and Mrs. Noble. Where is your luggage?”
The pair stammered until Donna thought of an excuse. “Oh, there was a huge miscommunication and we ended up well ahead of it. It should arrive later.”
The Doctor nodded. “Oh, yes! Very embarrassing mix-up.”
Greeves took that in his stride, as all butlers were capable of. “Then we shall be prepared. Lady Eddison will be expecting you in the sun room shortly, but shall you need to be brought to your room first?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” the Doctor cried, preventing Donna from making a similar protest. “We're rather in need of refreshments and would join Lady Eddison in the sun room, if that will do?”
Greeves nodded, not quite concealing his thoughts fully. “Follow me, then.”
As they walked behind him, Donna leaned in to whisper, “Doctor, how many waves would we make if we corrected them now?”
“Too many. I fear we're stuck going along with the universe's joke on us. You won't hate me for what the-”
“No. People will make assumptions, right? Playing along had to happen eventually, I suppose.”
Although what to do when the assumptions matched rather close to your own secret wishes? Neither knew the other was wondering that.
They reached the conservatory in time to see a young footman start a record playing. As they were noticed the housekeeper, a woman clearly from India, clapped her hands twice and gave orders. “Look sharp. We have guests.”
“Doctor and Mrs. Noble,” Greeves said to servants. He turned to the pair. “Drinks, sir? Ma'am?”
“Sidecar, please,” Donna said.
“And a lime and soda, thank you,” the Doctor added.
Greeves nodded and went to give the instructions to one of the footmen. The young man was being careful to follow his instructions to the letter, as if trying to impress or prove himself.
They looked around them at the Georgian sun room, built of brick and large floor-to-ceiling windows with little glass squares set into the lead frames. The arched windows gave the room a much older feel, even though it was a later addition of the original house. It had far more character than the UVP conservatories of Donna's era. And for added charm, someone had thought to put up a few Christmas decorations in preparation for the coming season. Chains of golden bells lined the ceiling and palladians, and a small pine tree in the corner had been festooned with lengths of pearls, handmade wooden ornaments, glass baubles and tiny candles that were as yet unlit.
“Wow, that is beautiful,” Donna murmured.
“I agree,” the Doctor said. “Better than anything I've seen of late. Maybe it's time to complete the adjustments I started as the last me.”
Soon Greeves' voice caught their attention. “May I announce Lady Clemency Eddison.”
A petite older, blonde woman came into view. Her dress, expensive fur stole and pose spoke volumes about her upbringing.
“Lady Eddison, hello,” the Doctor greeted warmly.
Lady Eddison frowned delicately, even as she accepted the Doctor's hand in greeting. “Forgive me, but who exactly might you be, and what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I'm Dr. John Noble. Call me Doctor,” he said, continuing their unintentional charade. “And this is my wife, Donna. We're of the Chiswick Nobles.”
Donna dropped a perfect curtsy. “Good afternoon, my lady,” she said, adopting a posh accent. “Topping day, what? Spiffing. Top hole.”
The Doctor quickly whispered, “No, no, no. Please, don't do that, Donna.” He quickly showed the psychic paper to Lady Eddison, making a mental note to explain what was more typical of the era to Donna the first chance he got, without being overheard. “We were thrilled to receive your invitation, my lady. We met at the Ambassador's reception.”
The psychic paper did the trick. Lady Eddison gave an embarrassed grin, lightly motioning them to join her where the drinks were being prepared. “Doctor, how could I forget you? But one must be sure with the Unicorn on the loose.”
“A unicorn? Brilliant. Where?” asked the Doctor, eager for an innocent adventure.
Lady Eddison laughed. “The Unicorn. The jewel thief? Nobody knows who he is. He's just struck again. Snatched Lady Babbington's pearls right from under her nose,” she added as they all received their drinks.
“Funny place to wear pearls,” Donna muttered before taking a sip.
The Doctor also took a sip, all to hide the smirk over her unexpectedly funny comment. He was also grateful that Donna had not make a joke at his expense over thinking their host meant an animal. He had walked right into several right then and there, he was certain of it. And she was certain to share them later, he would bet on that.
“May I announce Colonel Hugh Curbishley, and the Honourable Roger Curbishley,” said Greeves.
A man around Donna's age appeared as Greeves spoke, pushing a wheelchair carrying an older man with a jovial expression.
“My husband, and my son,” Lady Eddison introduced.
The Colonel nodded to the Doctor and Donna. “Forgive me for not rising. Never been the same ever since that flu epidemic back in '18.”
“Oh, dear. I know several in your situation and none have your cheerfulness,” the Doctor said while one servant offered the Colonel a drink. He recalled the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu epidemic, having endured an adventure falling right in the middle of an outbreak. All sorts of side effects could and did happen, especially with an epidemic that took more lives than the war that preceded it.
Roger took notice of Donna and grinned widely. “My word, you are a super lady,” he praised, taking her hand and kissing it.
Donna liked being the center of attention from a good-looking, charming man. Even though he was not the man she wished were kissing her hand. Or anywhere else for that matter, but that was not something she would voice aloud. “Oh, I like the cut of your jib. Chin, chin.”
The Doctor kept a cool smile on his face and extended his hand, making his presence known. “Hello. I'm the Doctor.”
Donna worried that another pissing match might be in store, and – as Roger let go of her hand to accept the Doctor's handshake – quickly added, “Congratulations on being in government. Must be an honour, being so young.”
Roger almost seemed relieved to have an excuse to stop the particular attention to Donna, although he stood a little taller once he released the handshake. “Indeed, it is. It is quite the opportunity and challenge, being an Honourable Member of the Opposition. How do you do, sir?”
“Very well, thank you.” The Doctor did not fault anyone for noticing Donna, but the sudden change in the man's focus made him frown internally. Even if it also made him breathe a little easier to be assumed to have prior claim to Donna. It was a lot like those other times when men paid Donna too much attention, but this time he knew why he didn't like it. Although he had been unaware that the young man's title had nothing to do with his mother's.
The young footman who had been making the drinks under the butler's instructions approached Roger with a drink on a tray. “Your usual, sir?”
“Ah. Thank you, Davenport. Just how I like it,” Roger praised, clearly pleased with the service. Although he gave a quick warning look before the footman nodded briskly and walked away.
Suddenly Roger's attention to Donna and then shifting away made sense to the Doctor. Especially in light of the exchange he had just witnessed. And if he was reading body language correctly, Roger's parents were pretending ignorance.
Donna, not noticing where his attention was, leaned in to whisper to the Doctor. “How come she's an Eddison, but her husband and son are Curbishleys?”
He leaned in, speaking in the same tone as they watched the married couple interact with warm affection fitting their station. “The Eddison title descends through her. One day Roger will be a lord. And so you know, curtsies are only given to royalty.”
Donna nodded, comprehension dawning just as Greeves introduced a fashionable young woman, wearing a fox stole for warmth over her red and black dress, joining the group. “Robina Redmond.”
“She's the absolute hit of the social scene,” Lady Eddison explained to the Doctor and Donna. “A must. Miss Redmond.”
Miss Redmond smiled and gracefully accepted the offered hand. “Spiffing to meet you at last, my lady. What super fun.”
“Reverend Arnold Golightly,” Greeves continued a few seconds later, introducing the vicar they had seen earlier.
“Ah, Reverend. How are you?” greeted Lady Eddison. The concern in her tone and in how she offered her hand to the Reverend was explained as she continued, “I heard about the church last Thursday night. Those ruffians breaking in.”
“You apprehended them, I hear,” the Colonel stated.
Golightly nodded, a bit awkward over the mention. “As the Christian Fathers taught me, we must forgive them their trespasses. Quite literally.”
Roger, having been entertaining Robina Redmond in conversation, had finished his drink and remarked, “Some of these young boys deserve a descent thrashing.”
Davenport was already immediately by Roger's side with another of the same drink. “Couldn't agree more, sir,” he said, taking the already finished glass and switching with the full one.
The Doctor's eyes widened. Davenport was so far out of line with the protocol for servants that he was certain Greeves was considering performing a thrashing on Davenport himself, on the spot. But Roger cleared his throat and gave a few clear hand signals meant to chastise Davenport and call Greeves off. Within seconds it seemed the danger to the footman had passed. For the time being.
Donna noticed the subtle look exchanged between the two men. She could read that miles away. Sighing, she whispered to the Doctor. “Typical. All the decent Human men are on the other bus.”
The Doctor stilled, puzzled. “Well, what about Time Lords?”
She blinked and looked at him in surprise. Was he offering?!
“Now, milady,” Golightly suddenly said, preventing Donna from quizzing the Doctor about his nervous question. “What about this special guest you promised us?”
“Here she is,” Lady Eddison said as a thirty-something woman in an elegant blue dress with a dark fur stole walked up. “A lady who needs no introduction.”
The woman was instantly embarrassed by the applause. “No, no, please, don't. Thank you, Lady Eddison. Honestly, there's no need.” She turned to greet the Doctor and Donna with a proffered hand. “Agatha Christie.”
Donna blinked even as she accepted it. “What about her?”
“No,” Donna gasped, breathing in shock even as a huge smile grew on her face. “You're kidding.”
The Doctor's eyes had widened the instant she said her name, but he waited until Donna was silent from awe to praise the new guest and extend his own hand, his own grin competing with Donna's for showing excitement. “Agatha Christie. I've just finished reading your latest book. A marvelous mind. I was telling my companion just the other day how much of a fan I am and how I have wanted to met you, only to learn that she feels quite the same. And here you are. I'm the Doctor and this is Donna. And may I say, I am very much looking forward to your next book?”
Agatha's polite smile was marred by a frown. “You make a rather unusual couple.”
The Doctor blushed a deep red. “Oh, no. No, no, no. We're not m-,” he said awkwardly, cutting himself off at the last second once he remembered their cover.
“We're not a-,” Donna said at the same time, just as awkwardly and even more aware of the blushing, being a ginger. But they both cut themselves off in time to avoid any missteps in front of their hosts.
Agatha's smile turned amused. “Not married? Well, obviously not. No wedding rings.”
They both looked at their left ring finger with a nervous laugh, and while Donna glanced at the Doctor as she registered his acting just as she did, he said, “Oh. Well, you don't miss a trick. It's rather recent and the rings got mixed into our luggage.”
“Which we got separated from,” Donna added.
Agatha looked like the doubted their story, but chose to not challenge in.“Ah, then that would be why neither of you has a ring line. You know, I would have stayed not married if I were you,” she added quietly. “The thrill is in the chase, never in the capture.”
The Doctor and Donna each looked at the other, baffled, but their gazes caught as they recognized a mutual awkwardness.
Luckily for them, Lady Eddison addressed Agatha, drawing her away gently. “Mrs Christie, I'm so glad you could come. I'm one of your greatest followers. I've read all six of your books. Er, is, er, Mister Christie not joining us?”
Agatha lost her smile, although she pretended she was unaffected. “Is he needed? Can't a woman make her own way in the world?”
“Don't give my wife ideas,” said the Colonel, smiling in amusement.
What Agatha said made the Doctor's mind churn, and he needed to do something. He chose to start by finishing his drink. It was steadying his nerves to take control of the situation.
“Now Mrs. Christie, I have a question,” said Roger. “Why a Belgian detective?”
The Doctor motioned to the newspaper the Colonel had in his hands. “Excuse me, Colonel.” Luckily he got a nod of acceptance and he borrowed the paper, stepping away to read it.
Agatha did not miss a beat. “Belgians make such lovely buns.”
It got the desired reaction out of the group – aside from the Doctor, who was distracted. Donna's laugh was only a little affected. It was amusing and would have made her Granddad Noble do a spit-take, although her attention was more on the growing frown on the Doctor's face. And that his attention seemed divided between the paper and Agatha Christie herself.
“I say, where on Earth's Professor Peach?” Roger asked, looking around. “He'd love to meet Mrs Christie.”
Golightly answered, “Said he was going to the library.”
Lady Eddison did not notice the Doctor's subtle motion to Donna to join him away from the others. “Miss Chandrakala, would you go and collect the Professor?”
“At once, Milady,” the housekeeper answered, and walked away.
When the Doctor sensed Donna step right next to him, he looked up at her. “The date on this newspaper.”
“What about it?” she whispered back as she noted it was December 4, 1926.
“It's the day Agatha Christie disappeared,” he quietly remarked.
Donna's mouth went slack.
“She'd just discovered her husband was having an affair,” he continued after folding the paper.
Donna looked at Agatha, watching her actions. “You'd never think to look at her; smiling away.”
“Well, she's British and moneyed. Isn't that what they do? They carry on. Except for this one time. No one knows exactly what happened. She just vanished. Her car will be found tomorrow morning by the side of a lake. Ten days later, Agatha Christie turns up in a hotel in Harrogate. Said she'd lost her memory. She never spoke about the disappearance 'til the day she died, but whatever it was...”
“It's about to happen,” Donna breathed, knowing that this must be the trouble the TARDIS had detected.
“And we get to solve it.”
“Professor!” Miss Chandrakala cried, running out of the manor house. “The library! Murder! Murder!”
Chapter Two: Mysteries Afoot