The Kringle Caper
'Twas the week before Christmas and it came, unannounced, out of a clear blue morning sky.
Firstly it passed noisily over a London bridge, clattering and rattling, trailing smoke and flames. The pedestrians on the bridge ducked for cover instinctively before scrambling to their feet, ears popping, to watch the intruder on its mad flight through the city skies.
Office workers ran to windows, pointing and screaming. On the ground people just gaped, open-mouthed.
It spiralled between tall buildings, narrowly avoiding calamitous collision, heading for the heart of the mighty metropolis. Shockingly, it clipped the great bell tower of Big Ben, causing debris to rain down onto the streets below.
The collision made it spin uncontrollably towards the great river where, before thousands of unbelieving eyes, it crashed, causing a great bow wave. It lay half submerged for all the world to see; the Reindeer, Sleigh, Santa Claus and all!
The medical ward was small, whitewashed and militarily minimalist. Of the three beds crammed in, only one was occupied and a group of four disparate figures hunched around it.
The first was a physician; white coat and stethoscope. He looked square-jawed, clean-cut and rather too young to be a surgeon. Next to him was a tall, military man. Moustachioed, immaculate and kitted out in the uniform of a Brigadier. Opposite him was a petite girl of around twenty. Blond, elfin-faced and dressed in a denim dress. She was stunning but didn't yet know it. The fourth figure was a tall man with a shock of silver grey bouffant hair. He affected a bottle-green velvet smoking jacket, ruffled shirt and immaculate trousers. He looked like a celebrity TV hairdresser.
However, none of these was the most remarkable.
That was the patient. He lay oblivious on the bed, on top of the blankets, snoring lightly.
He was a mass of red and white fur, heavy black boots, ruddy red cheeks and sported a huge flowing beard of purest snow. How else can you describe Santa Claus?
"It's unbelievable," said Jo Grant.
"That's the third time you've said that, Miss Grant." Remarked Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart.
"OK – amazing then," corrected Jo.
The moustache twitched. "And that's the fourth time you've said that."
The Doctor, UNIT's dandified scientific advisor, scratched his neck. "How long has he been like this?"
"Since he came down in the Thames three days ago. We've had the devil of a job keeping a lid on it. Thousands of witnesses. We've been throwing out D-notices like confetti." The Brigadier sounded testy.
"Three days!" The Doctor looked appalled. He turned to the physician. "Well, you've examined him, surely!"
"You might at least have changed him into a gown!" said Jo, accusingly.
The man in the white coat looked sheepish. He was new, only recently assigned to UNIT on secondment from the Navy. Barely a week ago he had been dealing with fractures and appendicitis aboad HMS Ark Royal. When he had been assigned to UNIT he had been told to expect the unexpected. Now, in his first week, he had Santa Claus as his patient! The lieutenant's name was Harry Sullivan.
The Brigadier harrumphed. "Actually, that's not been possible."
"What do you mean?" asked the Doctor, glowering.
"Perhaps Lieutenant Sullivan would give us a demonstration."
"Oh, sir! I say..." Harry looked aghast.
"If you please, Lieutenant." The Brigadier's voice was silky, but the emphasis on the last word was irresistible.
Harry hesitantly reached out to the recumbent figure on the bed. There was a sudden crackling spark and he snatched his hand away with a yelp. Around Santa a faint blue aura shimmered momentarily before fading away.
"A force-field!" exclaimed Jo, rather pleased with her mastery of all that scientific lingo.
"Indeed, Miss Grant. We had the very devil of a job recovering this er.. gentleman. Put one of our lads in hospital with shock. It was even worse recovering his ...er...transportation..." The Brigadier looked uncomfortable.
"Transportation?" asked Jo.
"Sleigh!" Jo was enjoying her boss' discomfort.
"And ..er..his reindeer."
"Reindeer!" Jo almost swallowed her fist.
The Brigadier gave Jo a withering look, which promised of later retribution, before composing himself. "We've got a team looking at them over in Hanger 2. Not making much headway. Same blessed defence mechanism. Well, Doctor, what do you make of it?"
Jo looked up at the Doctor and saw the corner of his mouth twitching. Unseen by the other two men he gave her a quick wink, then cleared his throat. "I am mildly optimistic, Brigadier. Give me a few hours and I may have an answer for you." He tried to sound airy but Jo could hear a suppressed urgency in his voice.
"Very well, Doctor. I'll be in my office. Let me know as soon as you can please. I'm expecting a call from the Prime Minister. And you know how she can be." He crossed briskly to the door, paused and turned back. "Don't you have anything better to do, Lt Sullivan?"
"Oh! Yes, sir!" Harry jumped as if stung and hurried out of the room, clearly glad to be out of this asylum.
The Brigadier looked back at the snoring figure on the bed and shook his head. "Madness...sheer madness." The door closed behind him.
Jo said, "You're onto something, aren't you."
For a moment the Doctor said nothing. Then, "Quickly, Jo. Lock the door, there's a good girl."
When she returned to the bed she found the Doctor bending over it, holding a device she recognised. "That's your sonic screwdriver, isn't it?" She remembered it from that time with the Sea-Devils.
The Doctor nodded and began twisting the head of the device this way and that. "Now, if I can just find the right frequency I may be able to reverse the pol...there got it!" He held the probe at arm's length. "Mind your eyes, Jo."
There was a low hum, then a crackling sound. Santa's body began to glow bluely until it became painful to watch.
Suddenly the crackling ceased.
"It's OK, Jo."
She lowered her hands. On the bed Santa Claus sat up. He yawned loudly and scratched at his stomach.
"Have I you to thank for this, sir?" he asked, addressing the Doctor.
The Doctor inclined his head and held out a hand to help Santa swing his feet off the bed. He stood rather unsteadily, blinking around the room.
"A simple matter of draining off the electrical field."
Santa's brows furrowed. "You know of these matters?"
The Doctor smiled. "Perhaps you would like to drop your disguise now. You are quite safe here with us."
For a moment Santa hesitated. Then, with a sigh, he patted at the large buckle on his belt.
To Jo's astonishment his figure fluttered, to be replaced by as strange a creature as Jo had seen, and she had seen a few in her time with the Doctor.
It was a yellow, pyramid-shape, about the size and bulk of a man. It had five segmented arms wrapped around it and two darting compound eyes at the peak of the pyramid. The effect was rather like a giant bulbous starfish, standing upright.
"I am the Doctor and this is my friend Jo Grant. Jo, this is a member of the Navarino race."
"My name is Ekko. You are familiar with my people?" The Navariono spoke in a rather warbling falsetto, totally different from the rich Santa Claus baritone.
"Indeed. The Navarino are famous for their hologram technology. You are a long way from home, my friend."
"I was deflected from my course by an ion-storm which scrambled my helmic software. My ship clipped the atmosphere of this planet and I crashed -"
"Hold on!" interrupted Jo. "That I understand, but FATHER CHRISTMAS?"
"I was obliged to bring my ship down manually. I only had time to activate the automatic holo-protocols," wittered Ekko.
The Doctor snapped his fingers. "I think I see, Jo. Our friend here tried to camouflage his ship using a sensing system that scanned the local environment for a pattern. Of course, what did it pick up from London at this particular time of year? Trimmings, trees, shoppers. All the paraphernalia and imagery of Christmas!"
"So it disguised itself as Santa Claus on his sleigh?" Jo was incredulous, but when she thought about it there was no other logical explanation. "But that was three days ago."
"The crash damaged the holo-systems and locked the selected pattern. It also fused the protective field. I was unable to move or communicate until your friend released me." The Navarino looked around anxiously. "Can you help me find my ship?"
The Doctor nodded. "The last thing we need is for your technology to fall into the wrong hands."
"The Brigadier said that the...sleigh...is over in Hanger 2," said Jo.
"Then we'd better go and have a look," said the Doctor.
"Hang on a mo. How are we going to get past the sentry in the corridor?"
The Doctor tipped Jo another wink. "I've got an idea about that..."
The UNIT corporal was bored witless, fantasising about the mulled wine and turkey that awaited him back home. Christmas Eve and here he was -
His reverie was interrupted as the door to sick bay was thrown open. His boss, the Brigadier was in his face, glowering.
"You were NOT asleep on duty, were you corporal?"
"N-no, sir. Absolutely not!"
"Good. Now listen carefully. No one, repeat no one, is to enter or leave sick bay until further notice without my express instruction. Do I make myself clear?"
The corporal saluted. "Absolutely, sir!"
"Very well. Come along Doctor, Miss Grant." The door of sick bay slammed shut and the trio swept down the corridor and out the building.
The corporal puffed out his cheeks and his brow furrowed. Funny – he could have sworn the Brigadier had already left!
It was cold and dark with a hint of snow in the air as the trio approached the long, low shape of Hanger 2.
"That was a remarkable performance," said the Doctor to the 'Brigadier'.
"You gave me the words, Doctor."
Jo could hardly believe that it was not actually the Brigadier accompanying them. Ekko's holographic disguise was spot on, as was the voice.
Two sentries snapped to attention as they approached the entrance to the hanger.
"Anything to report?" barked the 'Brigadier'
"All quiet, sir."
"Is the survey team still at work?" asked the Doctor
"Left about half an hour ago, sir," replied one of the soldiers. "Back on Boxing Day."
"Well, you two can cut along to the canteen. The Doctor and Miss Grant want to examine the...object. I will accompany them.
The soldiers looked at their boss as if he had gone mad.
"Well it is Christmas Eve," put in Jo.
"On the double now!" barked the 'Brigadier'.
The two disbelieving UNIT soldiers tramped off into the night.
Hanger 2 was a misnomer, there being no Hanger 1 or 3.
It was the only hanger on the UNIT base. There were two theories about why it was so called. The first was that it was a cunning security measure dating back to the construction of the base, designed to flumox any potential intruders. The other, even more unlikely, was that it was so christened by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart after a drunken binge and proved that somewhere, deep down (very deep), he was possessed of a sense of humour.
In any event, it had surely never held anything like this. The interior space was mostly in darkness, but at its centre, lit by arc-lamps, was a massive gleaming sleigh, complete with a bored looking team of eight reindeer, who seemed content to chew their tongues and look around occasionally.
Jo was about to open her mouth and go through the 'unbelivable/amazing' routine again but managed to check herself in time. However she could not prevent an involuntary 'funky!" escape from her lips.
The Doctor went over to a nearby workbench and examined a sheaf of papers lying upon it. He snorted. "They're not getting very far at all."
He balled up a piece of paper and threw it at the sledge. There was the same sharp electrical crackle and glowing aura that Jo had seen around the Navarino in sick bay. The reindeer remained undisturbed.
The Doctor nodded to the 'Brigadier'. "My compliments. Your force-field has held up very well."
The 'Brigadier' smiled in return and double tapped at his midriff. The Brigadier-hologram shimmered and disappeared, leaving Ekko in his natural Navarino form. The sleigh and reindeer likewise shimmered, to be replaced by a bullet-shaped spaceship of plexi-glass and gleaming silver, standing on stubby landing legs. It was about the size of a couple of double-decker buses placed end to end.
The Doctor cast a professional eye.
"Hmm. Not much external damage. A bit of re-entry scorching and a dent or two."
" The field deflected most physical damage from the crash and prevented any flooding," warbled Ekko."The problem is with the navigational software, which was scrambled by the ion storm."
"Then let's take a look. Jo will you mind waiting here? Don't let anybody in the hanger."
With that the Doctor and the Navarino entered the ship via a ramp that hissed open at their approach.
"Come on, Jo. Do buck up!"
She had dozed off, propped up against a work-table. Her watch showed that about an hour had passed since the Doctor and Ekko had disappeared into the Navarino ship.
"Never mind, now. Our friend is ready to depart."
The Navariono ship was throbbing with power and Ekko stood at the top of the ramp, near the open hatch.
"It was fairly easy to re-align the navigation software. Be a good girl and open the roof for me."
Yawning, and wondering if she had been having some weird Christmassy-dream, Jo crossed over to a large control box on the far wall and threw the lever surmounting it.
The roof of Hanger two began to roll back with a loud whine of machinery that Jo thought would attract every UNIT soldier on the base. But it didn't. After fifteen anxious minutes the roof was fully retracted.
The Doctor and Jo exchanged waves with Ekko who entered the open hatch, the ramp hissing shut after him. Jo next saw him through the plexi-glass nose, working at the controls.
Slowly the ship began to lift.
"The Brigadier's going to be furious about this," murmuered Jo.
The Doctor chuckled. "Isn't he just! You leave the Brigadier to me. Come on, Jo, let's see him off!"
They hurried outside into the cold evening just as the Navarino ship cleared the hanger. It hovered for a moment, then began to tilt nose-up. It rose higher and Jo expected to see it flash away but instead it banked and began to describe amazingly convoluted manoeuvres in the sky overhead.
For a moment Jo thought the ship had malfunctioned but then she saw that it was trailing iridescent neon-blue material that formed words. Then the ship blurred away until it had vanished completely.
The Doctor and Jo gaped up at the glowing message.
"Not exactly the most inconspicuous departure," murmured the Doctor.
"I'd like to see the Brigadier try and cover this up with a D-notice!" said Jo, in wonderment.
The Doctor chuckled and looked down at his companion.
"Happy Christmas, Jo."
"Happy Christmas, Doctor."
They turned back to look overhead again.
The first flakes of snow were beginning to fall now and the massive glowing message was beginning to fade.
But it was still visible:
A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OF YOU AT HOME