It was a while later, after they'd filmed the latest episode and aired it in such a short span of time that it surprised even him, that the Doctor was back in the producer's office. Normally, he would've left long before, but his conversation with Phoebe had only served to remind him that he wasn't really in any rush. After all, all he had to get back to was more of what he'd been doing when he'd first gotten the phone call that had led him here in the first place, and that wasn't much of anything to rush back to.
Besides, Ms. Frizzle had put him up for a few days when he'd asked. He hadn't learned everything he'd wanted to know, not by a long shot, but he had gotten something he'd wanted: a good, long conversation.
He liked those conversations. He really ought to try to have more of them. Shame things had a tendency of popping up and interrupting whenever a conversation showed promise of turning into a particularly good one.
Thankfully, he'd gotten through another good, long conversation without that happening.
He hadn't gotten all the answers he'd wanted, but beggars couldn't be choosers.
Anyway, he was now waiting with the producer to see how the show would be received. Children call in, the producer had explained, to share their thoughts and get answers to their questions about the show. Since the Doctor had become such an important part to this particular show, the producer had thought it would be nice if he'd join him, and the Doctor was delighted to do so.
Besides, the TARDIS was still sitting quietly in the corner of the room, and as far as the Doctor could tell, the perception filter was working perfectly.
The first order of business, it seemed, was to tidy up the mess. If he left it any longer, the producer said, his colleague would have a thing or two to say about it. According to her, it was his turn to clean up. She'd done it often enough without his help, so he could very well try going about it without her. He was, apparently, too much of a packrat for her tastes.
"When was the last time you cleaned up in here, anyway?" the Doctor asked, flipping through a pile of scripts. He couldn't really talk, but the TARDIS wasn't terribly messy. Well, all right, Romana would've had a few words to say about him and his affection for clutter, but he at least knew where everything was in the TARDIS.
Well. Almost everything. There were a few things he hadn't seen for a few years now. His copy of The Time Machine had gone off somewhere. He couldn't recall where he'd put his cricket bat. He knew he had a few opened and only partially empty bags of jelly babies floating around. His red yo-yo wasn't with the others. He also couldn't recall the last time he'd been in the music room, but to his knowledge, he still had one. It would be nice to find it; he had a music stand to put back in it, the one he'd found in storage, and a few compositions he wouldn't mind plunking out on the piano to see if he liked the melody as much as he thought he did.
"It has been a while," the producer admitted, "but in my defence, I'm not the only one using this office."
The Doctor glanced at the desk that belonged to the other producer. It was still covered in papers like the rest of the office, but it looked slightly more organized than everything else. By the computer, there was a picture of Liz with a smiling woman, taken somewhere in the wilderness, to judge by the tent in the background. "She off on vacation?" he guessed.
"Checking up on Bella and Herman, actually," the producer replied. At the Doctor's blank look, he added, "Bella was Wanda's frog; after she was released, my esteemed colleague saw the opportunity to get reacquainted with the great outdoors on a regular basis and leave me to tidy up the office mess."
"She call it the office mess or your mess?" the Doctor asked. He had enough experience with companions complaining about the mess in the TARDIS, even when it wasn't a mess at all. After all, the rooms that were filled to the ceiling were storage rooms. They were supposed to be like that, weren't they? It wasn't as if he wasn't the slightest bit organized. A post-it note or two or three on the door would tell him what the room contained.
Well, until he lost the post-it note or forgot to make one.
Still. Point was, the TARDIS was not a mess, not like this was. After all, he could always find room for the bits and bobs he'd accumulated. Even Donna had been quite good at it, judging by the amount of things she'd moved from the boot of her car into the TARDIS…. Most of that was still in the TARDIS, come to that. As were a number of Rose's things. Even Martha had forgotten a couple things, though she'd had the chance to find most of her belongings. Not like—
"Mine," the producer admitted, blessedly interrupting the Doctor's thoughts. "Thankfully, Liz here knows that's a lie, so she's agreed to help."
At present, Liz was admiring her reflection in the blank computer screen.
"Providing," the producer added, "that I give her a few treats in return."
Upon hearing this, Liz quickly scampered to the nearest pile of papers and set about straightening it.
Oh, yes. That was familiar enough. "No such thing as a free lunch," the Doctor commented. He'd gotten into enough messes to know the meaning of that particular economics phrase. It went along the same lines as something being too good to be true. It was a rare thing indeed to truly get something for nothing.
The producer checked his watch, then said, "Shouldn't be long now." He accepted a pile of scripts from the Doctor and put them into a box to be kept, the Doctor suspected, in the corner of the room. Once that corner was available again, of course. But with the clutter and knickknacks and loose papers everywhere, the producer didn't seem to notice that the corner was currently occupied.
Well, if he did, he didn't comment on it.
Ah, well. He'd realize soon enough. The Doctor wasn't planning on sticking around for too much longer now.
It was, as the producer had predicted, not long before the first phone call came in. The Doctor had his hands full at the moment—with a globe in one hand and the bridge he'd seen when he'd first come in, the one built out of bobby pins and gumdrops, in the other—and Liz was scurrying around, trying to collect all the marbles that had fallen out of the bag she'd been tugging on, so the producer was the one to answer the phone. "Hello, Magic School Bus," he said after he'd hit the speakerphone button.
"Hi," a boy said. "I wanted to ask why you didn't have many actual science lessons in the episode. I was looking forward to seeing an adventure, but they hardly even left the classroom, and when they were in space, they only went to the planets in the solar system again."
"We took a bit of a different tack with this episode," the producer explained. "So much of science is unexplained and left in mystery; we were trying to explore a bit of that."
"And," the Doctor added, jumping into the conversation, "I'd argue that science needs imagination, wouldn't you? If you can't imagine the possibility, you can never realize it, and if you can't imagine possible answers to explain a mystery, you'll have an awful time trying to solve it and I doubt you'd be very successful."
"Yes," the producer agreed, shooting the Doctor a sideways glance, "imagination does play a substantial role in most of our episodes. It's an important part of childhood."
"Of life," the Doctor corrected.
There was a pause. "Oh," the boy finally said.
"Anything else?" the Doctor asked cheerfully.
Another pause. "No, I guess not. Thanks."
"You're welcome," the Doctor said, grinning as he reached over to end the call.
The producer raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you manning the phone or am I?" he asked.
"Oh, you are," the Doctor assured him. "Me, I'm not so good at this phone business. Missed my briefing."
"You didn't have a briefing," the producer said.
"Well, there you are, then."
The producer shook his head and returned to the work at hand. The Doctor did the same. Consequently, the next time the phone rang, roughly five seconds later, he had his hands full and so did the producer. Liz, who was just trying to be helpful by collecting all the pens the producer had misplaced, zipped over to the phone instead. She answered it, pushing the appropriate button to put it onto speakerphone again.
The producer shot her a grateful look before answering, "Magic School Bus, producer speaking."
"Oh, good." The girl's voice on the other end of the line sounded relieved—and suspiciously familiar. The Doctor perked his ears up. "I wanted to know how you could justify using aliens as a key plot point. I mean, they don't exist. How can you have everyone just happen to run into one?"
"Oh, I wouldn't put it like that," the Doctor said before the producer could open his mouth. "I'd say it was more an episode exploring the potential out there, wouldn't you? Testing the limits of the imagination?"
There was a brief pause, and then the producer recovered his tongue. "We didn't want to specifically confirm or deny anything in particular. There are stretches in every show, of course, more often for time's or simplicity's sake than not, but the core lessons are always there, and as the Doctor pointed out—"
"It is you!" the girl burst out. "But I thought…. I mean, you didn't act…. I know they sometimes have people from the show monitor the phones or call in, but you acted like you didn't even know anything about the show!" With hardly a breath as a pause, she muttered, "And I phoned a different number this time."
The producer shot the Doctor a questioning look, and he shrugged. "She had the wrong number earlier. That's why she wanted me to talk to you about having a show with aliens in it."
The producer stared at him. "But this show just aired. It wasn't even written before you turned up. How—?"
The Doctor grinned. "It's all a bit of a mystery then, isn't it? That's brilliant; I love a good mystery. Of course, I know the answer to this one. Question is, do you?"
Silence. Then came the girl's voice, flat and incredulous. "You've got to be kidding me."
The producer looked at the phone and then back at the Doctor, looking completely baffled.
The Doctor just grinned.
A/N: I couldn't resist taking it full circle. *grins* Many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review. I quite appreciated it.