Sarah Jane surprised The Doctor with her choice of evening dress. The Doctor amazed Sarah Jane with his.
He smiled widely as she emerged from her bedroom suite into the day room. The TARDIS Wardrobe had done her proud. He recognised the style as based on 1950s Holywood glamour, though if anyone asked he usually claimed to know nothing about women’s fashions. It fitted Sarah Jane’s still slender figure with only the very lightest of girdle to create that perfectly flat part of the silhouette between bust and waist that was favoured in that particular period of fashion history. The deep V neckline was embroidered with silver thread and what she thought was costume jewellery, but The Doctor knew to be real Gallifreyan diamonds. The short cap sleeves were also decorated that way, and where it was fitted around the bust more diamonds were scattered like a starfield on the black chiffon and lace. The rest of the bodice was plain chiffon and then the skirt fell from the waist in soft flutes to her calves. The Doctor tried to glance casually at the still shapely legs encased in sheer black silk stockings and when he failed, he looked quickly at the black high heel court shoes that gave her an extra inch or two of height then brought his eyes quickly back up to admire the way she had incorporated some matching black lace and more of what she thought were costume diamonds into her formal hairdo.
In short, she looked beautiful.
And he told her so.
“Really?” she asked, not quite believing it.
“Really,” he assured her. “You are stunning, Sarah Jane. “You will be the most beautiful humanoid in the ballroom.”
“Oh, I’m sure I won’t,” she answered with typical Sarah Jane modesty. “Besides, look at you. I mean… wow. Who’s going to look at me next to…”
She wasn’t even sure how to describe his outfit, except that ‘wow’ was in there. She had half expected him not to change at all. The other half had expected a nice dinner suit that would make him look like a willowy James Bond.
But what he was wearing blew her mind. There was, at the basis, a robe that was formal black. But it was more elaborately embroidered around the neckline and hem than any dress she had ever seen. And over it went a robe of crimson velvet embroidered all over with what might have been gold thread, but was more likely actual spun gold, the way it caught the light. And it had a collar that had to be seen to be believed. The same rich fabric was stiffened with something as strong as corrugated cardboard but not as thick. It stood up from his shoulders and spread out around his neck, rising up to frame his head, upon which he wore what actually looked like a very thin gold coronet set with tiny red jewels.
“Wow,” she said again.
“You don’t think it’s too much?” he asked anxiously. Sarah Jane couldn’t even manage an answer to the question. “I must say the collar feels strange. The last time I wore formal Gallifreyan robes I had broader shoulders. Donna is always saying that I’m too skinny…”
“You look fantastic,” she told him. “Is that really how people dressed on your planet?”
“We had even more elaborate gear for State occasions,” he answered. “This is the formal wear of a Gallifreyan Ambassador. The advantage being that usually there’s only one ambassador at a function. Imagine a Presidential Inauguration with everyone looking like this!”
Sarah Jane tried to imagine, and failed.
“Oh, if only I could have showed you,” The Doctor said ruefully, his eyes turning briefly to that beautiful mural. “But never mind, that. Here and now, may I have the honour, Sarah Jane Smith, to escort you to the Ambassador’s ball?”
“Oh, you may,” she answered. “To think I had nothing planned for this evening!”
He took her arm gallantly and she felt as if she was walking on air as he stepped out of that wonderful dayroom where she had spent such a pleasant evening in his company. And, in fact, she was walking on air - or at least standing on an anti-gravity pad that meant she didn’t have to walk at all, only hold on tight to The Doctor’s arm and allow herself to glide three inches off the floor all the way to the turbo-lift. She looked down at her feet and laughed for the sheer joy of it. The Doctor laughed, too, then put on a suitably reserved face as a Vulpesi Steward waiting by the lift bowed to them and wished them a good evening. He bowed his head politely to the Steward as they stepped into the turbo-lift to the Observation Deck where pre-dinner drinks and mingling would take place.
“Oh!” Sarah Jane gasped as they stepped out of the lift a few seconds later. “It looks like the top of the Eiffel Tower.”
“Yes, it does,” The Doctor agreed. “I honestly don’t know why the Intergalactic Diplomatic Corps chose so many Earth references in their décor, but after all there are few views to beat Paris at sunset as seen from the top of Monsieur Eiffel’s visionary creation. Except, perhaps, the view of your solar system from the outer marker…”
That was a fantastic view, Sarah Jane agreed as she stepped close to the wrought iron framed window and looked out at the blue marble planet nearby and the sun so far distant and tried not to feel overwhelmed by how many miles it was back to Earth. It was the furthest away she had been since… she wondered which was her furthest travel, Peladon, Metebelis, Skaro, Karn, Kastria? They were all far out in deep space, further than any Human of her time had ever been unless it was with The Doctor. And it had all been a long time ago for her. Now, the edge of the solar system felt like too much. She was glad she didn’t have to go any further.
She pretended to look at the view while actually paying attention to the other dinner guests as they arrived on the Observation Deck and mingled socially. She recalled seeing some of the species before. There were two representatives of Alpha Centauri, those people who looked like a tube with spindly arms and legs and a rounded head with one big, single eye in it. She knew they were a peaceful race. The Doctor called them the boy scouts of the universe, the sort of people who thought a stranger was a friend you haven’t met, yet. There was a group of very tall, thin people with pale pink skin that put her in mind of a fruit salad chew bar that had been softened and stretched having a very difficult conversation with a man who was only about three foot tall with a bright blue face covered in spines like a pineapple. He was, The Doctor said, a representative of the planet Sto, which had a mixed population of ‘normal’ sized humanoids and the short, spiky faced ones who were either red, blue or green depending on the continent they came from.
“What about those?” Sarah Jane asked, trying not to stare to obviously at two tall humanoids with permanently scowling faces that were part swarthy flesh and part scales and bald heads that ended in a point. His clothes looked part battle armour.
“Draconians,” The Doctor said. “Jo could tell you about them. I had a run in with them when she was with me. Very sophisticated culture. Very militant. Bit like Samurais. Peace treaties with them tend to be volatile. They’re always looking for ways to break them. But it’s in their interests to sign this one and steer clear of Earth.
“And what are THEY doing here?” She nodded towards the two creatures that had just stepped onto the deck, bowing their heads to get through the door. She shuddered as she saw the muddy green flesh and long arms ending in claws that would drag on the floor if they didn’t raise them up.
“Raxacoricofallapatorians,” The Doctor murmured, trying hard not to sound too disdainful. He was meant to be here as an Ambassador, after all.
“They can’t be interested in peace, surely?” Sarah Jane commented. The Doctor smiled wryly.
“You’ve had a couple of run-ins with them, too, haven’t you?”
“Those are the ambassadors of that planet which I don’t want to have to say again tonight. They’re here to give assurances they will rein in the rogue elements that have been making trouble for Earth and other planets. And I think they may well do it. They don’t want to lose profits through trade sanctions if they don’t.”
“Just promise me we’re not going to be sitting with them at dinner. Or I won’t be able to eat.”
“No danger of that,” The Doctor answered. “The Vulpesi have made arrangements. Those species who prefer to eat their meat live are dining in a separate annex.”
“Good,” Sarah Jane answered, then tried not to think too much about what he meant by ‘eat their meat live’. He smiled sympathetically and gave her a pleasant tasting drink from a tray being circulated by a female Vulpesi who held up her tray with the same arm her tail was gracefully looped around. She listened as he told her about some of the more aesthetically pleasing looking races that were represented before a Vulpesi in the lilac and beige formal livery of the Diplomatic Service announced that it was time for dinner. The Doctor took her arm again as they made their way to the dining room.
“Oh, magnificent,” Sarah Jane exclaimed as they stepped into a room that faithfully replicated the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in the best days of pre-Revolutionary France. The Vulpesi Stewards who stood ready to serve them were all dressed in deep purple, lilac and beige version of the sort of clothes Sarah Jane associated with The Three Musketeers, and when one of them formally announced her as The Honourable Sarah Jane Smith of Earth accompanied by The Doctor of Gallifrey, she got that walking on air feeling again without the need of anti-grav pads.
They were seated at a beautifully laid table along with the spiky faced Ambassador of Sto, who had a special chair to raise him up, and his wife, who was a very pretty ‘normal height’ humanoid. The phrase ‘trophy wife’ occurred to Sarah Jane and she suspected The Doctor thought the same. Next to them were a pale faced and hairless couple from a planet called Droffu and two fabulously stunning people who reminded Sarah Jane of Christmas decorations. They had golden skin, really golden, not just the promises of a sun-tan lotion. Their clothes were spun gold and as they sat they folded huge golden feathered wings behind their backs. The Doctor asked how things were on Oriaia, the planet of the golden-winged people and was told that the air was clean and the sun warm and he should pay them a visit again some time. He promised he would, and the female Oriaian seemed very pleased by that. She was obviously very taken by The Doctor and wanted him to dance with her later.
Sarah Jane felt jealous. She really did. She felt as if she wanted to fight for HER Doctor against this flirting golden creature. But she didn’t have to. The Doctor promised her one dance later, but said he was the consort of the Honourable Sarah Jane Smith of Earth tonight and had promised her his fullest attention. The golden woman accepted defeat graciously.
“You are actually from the Planet Earth?” asked the wife of the Sto Ambassador. “I am thrilled. I have never met an actually Earth Human before. It really is an honour. I have heard so much about Earth. It is such a fascinating planet.”
“Um… I’ve never…” Sarah Jane began. “That is… well, yes, I suppose it is. Yes, fascinating.”
“I find it remarkable that you have so many governments on one planet,” the Oriaian male remarked. “It is a wonderful system of planetary administration. Quite unique in this galaxy. It prevents any one individual becoming all powerful. The other governments prevent any planetary-wide tyranny.”
“Well… I’m not sure what George W Bush thinks about that idea,” Sarah Jane commented, ignoring The Doctor’s laughing eyes. She really wasn’t sure how to properly handle a political question like that, though, and was glad when The Doctor came to her rescue and began to talk about the artistic achievements of Earth. The Droffund agreed that no planet had such artistic diversity and imagination as Earth and the Sto Ambassador admitted to owning a collection of miniature reproductions of the Flemish School. The Oriaians were taken with Da Vinci’s drawings of powered flight which, they said, were sublime.
“This is why Earth must be protected from hostile elements,” the Sto Ambassador continued. Sarah Jane found herself listening to him intently. He looked like a comical little man, and his voice had a strange squeak. But he spoke with sincerity about the need for a Treaty to protect a planet with so much potential but so few defences of its own. Around the table the other Ambassadors nodded in agreement.
“Will it work though?” Sarah Jane asked when he was finished. She looked around the hall. “There are a lot of different planets represented here. So many species. But there are a lot that I don’t see. Sontarans, Cybermen, Daleks, Zygons… Will they leave Earth alone just because you tell them to?”
“We can try, the Droffund said with a nod of his pale head. “We can only try.”
The Doctor said the same. All the Ambassadors around that table did. Sarah Jane felt touched by their sincere wishes to protect the planet that was her home.
After the very enjoyable dinner, they were joined by the live meat eaters as they all went through to another grand room where the dancing was to take place. This room wasn’t modelled on any particular treasure of Earth, but the words ‘art deco’ floated in Sarah Jane’s mind. It was semi-circular, like a fully opened Japanese fan. The high ceiling was ribbed like a fan. It was the colour of mother of pearl and it glowed with a diffused light that beautifully illuminated everything. At the ‘hub’ of the fan was a stage upon which a string orchestra played soft music as the guests found their places on the beautiful mother of pearl dance floor.
Around the floor, Sarah Jane noted there was tiers of step like seats like in a Roman amphitheatre and more of them in a gallery above. But nobody needed to sit, yet. They were ready to dance. The Doctor faced Sarah Jane as the music changed from general background to a waltz tune and bowed his head elegantly before placing his hands very correctly, one on her waist and the other taking her hand in his. She floundered for a second or two before putting her free hand on his shoulder just below the stiff collar and recalled the steps of a formal Viennese waltz that she had learnt long ago at school. She was surprised to find that The Doctor was an excellent dancer. He placed his feet correctly. He had a natural rhythm of movement. She was sure he was actually making her dance much better than she thought she knew how.
And she felt wonderful. She felt as if she wasn’t a fifty something spinster who had missed out on romance. She felt as if she was in her twenties again and it all lay ahead of her, all those wonderful possibilities. She felt as if she was dancing with the most handsome man in the room, and that she really was the most beautiful woman there.
“You’re doing it, aren’t you?” she said. “You’re… making me feel this way.”
The Doctor smiled enigmatically.
“Just enjoy every moment, Sarah Jane. This ball is in your honour, you know. All the people of Earth, but you in particular, because you’re the one I chose.”
“Oh, don’t,” she protested. “I don’t think I can cope with THAT. Just let me dance with you, and try to forget how many people there are around me. Do you know, I always imagined doing this with you. Dancing.”
“You do realise that’s a metaphor in the 51st century?”
“No,” she answered. “A metaphor for what?”
“Never mind. Doesn’t matter. I always wanted to dance with you, Sarah Jane. We’ve both had a dream come true tonight.”
“Excuse me, may I have this dance?” said a voice as that set came to an end. The Doctor relinquished her to the man who had made the request and she laughed for joy as she was swept away by a dance partner who had golden wings. She saw The Doctor make good his promise with the golden winged lady and after that dance she found herself with a tall, broad-shouldered humanoid in a black and silver robe who turned out to have two pairs of arms and was able to hold both her hands and her waist at the same time. Then another strange but elegant creature claimed her. She caught a glimpse of The Doctor from time to time, also mingling and dancing with the females.
For the last dance, though, The Doctor found her again. He made the formal bow, but then instead of placing his hands formally he drew her close, his hands around her waist. After a moment of surprise she put her arms around his neck, underneath that collar. They danced close, forgetting the proper way of doing things.
“It isn’t real,” Sarah Jane told herself. “We’re not a couple. He’s just a very sweet, kind, sensitive version of himself trying to make up for all the times when he wasn’t sensitive, all the times he forgot to treat her like a lady and took her for granted. And that was the truth of it, of course. But it felt good, all the same, to be pressed so close to him that she could hear his double hearts beating and they were the rhythm she danced to.
If this dance could have gone on forever, she would have been happy.
Of course, it couldn’t. The music ended and everyone applauded the orchestra who had made it such a delightful evening, then they all stood to attention. Sarah Jane stood next to The Doctor, her arms by her side as a stirring tune was played. She wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but it felt like something that should be respected.
“The Intergalactic Anthem,” The Doctor explained to her as they made their way back to the suite. “Acknowledged as representative of all the planets who align themselves together. A bit like Ode To Joy is the European anthem.”
“It’s nice,” Sarah Jane agreed. Then she nervously approached an idea that had occurred to her during the evening. “You’re taking me to change out of the posh frock before taking me home, aren’t you?”
“Well, I thought we might have a quiet drink together, first,” he answered. “But I did promise…”
“I don’t mind if… Doctor… would you mind… would it be all right… I’d rather like to… Could I stay and see you and the others making your Treaty tomorrow. I suppose some of it will be boring and dull and all, but I really am interested and… would it be all right?”
The Doctor smiled widely.
“Sarah Jane, I would be delighted,” he answered. “Yes, that’s a marvellous idea.”
And it was a marvellous idea. She never stopped believing that. But she did reflect a little later, that if she had gone home, she wouldn’t have been plunged into one of those terrifying moments that comes from getting on the roller coaster with The Doctor.
To Be Continued...