“Is it him?” Sarah Jane asked as she stood and went to the hallway. Maria had already reached the front too. It wasn’t The Doctor. But Sarah Jane was pleased to see the two visitors who came in, wishing her a merry Christmas.

“Mr Lumsden!” she exclaimed, greeting the old man warmly. “And… oh… Mr Chesterton. Did you two come together? I didn’t know you even knew each other.”

The Doctor asked me to drop by and pick him up on the way, seeing as were both coming here,” Mr Lumsden explained.

“We come bearing gifts,” Mr Chesterton added, presenting Sarah Jane with a cut glass bowl of cranberry sauce. Mr Lumsden held up a bottle of fine brandy.

“Oh… wonderful,” Sarah Jane managed to say. “Now all we need is the rest of the dinner.”

“The Doctor said he had that organised,” Mr Chesterton told her. “He’s bringing dinner along with the rest of the guests.”

And at that very moment there was a sound that both Sarah Jane and Mr Chesterton knew well. They turned to see the TARDIS materialise against the wall between the Dining Room and Library. Both the doors opened and Martha and Donna, along with Martha’s boyfriend, Tom, stepped out, bearing with them a very large roast turkey on a platter and a tureen of roast potatoes. Sarah Jane directed them into the dining room and sent Luke after them with the brandy and cranberry sauce.

After them came a succession of people, some she knew, some she didn’t. Jo Grant was her immediate predecessor as The Doctor’s companion in the 1970s. She had met her and her husband, Clifford Jones, many times. She waited until they had delivered more dishes of vegetables to the dining room before hugging them. As she turned from them to be introduced to a lady called Grace who had come all the way from San Francisco along with Brendan and his boyfriend, she heard another car draw up outside. A black SUV. Maria shrieked with glee and ran to greet Jack Harkness along with his colleagues from Cardiff, Gwen and Ianto. The latter was carrying a huge silver ice bucket with champagne cooling in it. Jack grinned and reached into his pocket for a large sprig of mistletoe. Before she had time to protest he had pulled Sarah Jane close and kissed her while holding it over their heads. Sarah Jane was too astonished to be embarrassed, even when she saw Luke and Clyde staring in surprise.

“Jack Harkness, put Sarah Jane down and behave,” The Doctor said as he stepped out of the TARDIS along with Maria’s dad.

“You’re only jealous because I didn’t kiss you first,” Jack answered cheerfully.

“Dad? You were in the TARDIS?” Maria was surprised.

“It was an interesting journey,” Alan Jackson answered. “We went to San Francisco, first, then Brisbane in Australia for that lady over there with the soup tureen. Then Paris to pick up this lady, here. Maria, this is Polly Jackson. No relation to us, but you might have heard of her. The fashion designer!”

Maria looked at the elderly but still glamorous looking woman. She smiled and shook hands with her.

“Wow, you mean, you’re a friend of The Doctor, too?”

“Yes,” Polly answered. “My late husband, Ben, and I travelled with him a very long time ago. When we were young and he was…. Well… very different to how he is now.”

“That’s brilliant. Oh, it’s a pity mum isn’t here. She loves your designs. They’re her favourite.”

“She’ll be here, soon,” Alan told his daughter. “The Doctor felt she wasn’t ready for the TARDIS. He sent a taxi for her and Clyde’s mum.”

Maria beamed with pleasure. The Doctor thought of everything, even bringing her parents back together if only for one night. She turned and saw Luke, equally happy, talking to the old Brigadier and his wife, Doris, and Clyde in conversation with the new Brigadier, Benton. Sarah Jane was currently hugging a man who came out of the TARDIS with Benton. She introduced him to Luke as her old friend, Mike Yates. Maria remembered Sarah Jane mentioning him before. He was another of her friends from when she and The Doctor were working with U.N.I.T. in the 1970s. The Doctor had collected together all his friends from over the years – those who were still alive, at least – and brought them here for a reunion Christmas dinner.

The taxi brought Maria and Clyde’s mums and that was the last of the guests to arrive. They all went through to the dining room and found their places. Sarah Jane looked around in amazement. Apart from herself and The Doctor and Clyde, Luke and Maria there was Alan and Chrissie, AND Maria’s grandmother looking well and wearing a cardigan with a silver brooch shaped like a cat on it. There was Mrs Langer, Mr Lumsden and Mr Chesterton, Martha and Tom, Donna, Jack, who was now playing with the mistletoe with Gwen and Ianto on either side of him. Polly Jackson was deep in conversation with Chrissie and still smiling despite that ordeal. Brigadier Benton was talking to a woman who The Doctor had introduced as Dorothy, but known to him as Ace. Liz Shaw was there, of course. And a quiet, shy lady who The Doctor had called Victoria. Then there was Brendan and Grey – Later, Sarah Jane thought, she had to find a quiet place to chat with those two. It was the first time she had met her nephew’s boyfriend and she wanted to know more about him. It was the first time she had met the Australian lady called Tegan and the American called Grace, too. And she definitely wanted to hear their stories of life with The Doctor. And a pretty young girl called Sally and her boyfriend who had seemed nervous when they first arrived here, but were chatting happily now to Liz and Ace.

In fact, there were so many people here she wondered if she would get a chance to properly talk to half of them. At least, she could swap phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and keep in contact. Because this was the whole of The Doctor’s family living on Earth in this year, 2008. There were others, she supposed, living on other planets, in other places and other times. And perhaps he would find them another time. But in this place and time, these were all.

The meal was delicious. Sarah Jane asked where it had all come from and those who travelled in the TARDIS said that The Doctor had most of it already prepared in the kitchen. He cooked it himself. Sarah Jane wasn’t sure whether to believe that or not. He might have stopped off at some restaurant, anywhere in the universe and bought everything. Either way, it was gratefully received, washed down with plenty of chilled champagne – and for the youngsters a non-alcoholic version from a planet in the Castellic Sector.

There was plenty of conversation as they ate. All of these people from different worlds, Liz the scientist, The Brigadier and his people from the military, Jack from wherever it was he came from, Polly with her fashion, Tegan who was a pilot now, but used to be an air hostess when The Doctor knew her, all had the one thing in common. Directly, or indirectly, their lives had been changed by The Doctor. In the case of Maria’s family, that was indirectly, though knowing Sarah Jane, who continued The Doctor’s work. But one way or another they knew him and were grateful to him.

“Why isn’t my mum getting worried by all this talk of time travel and space monsters?” Maria asked. “Clyde’s mum, too. They don’t know about any of this.”

“Power of Suggestion,” Sarah Jane answered. “That’ll be The Doctor’s doing. They will only hear what’s safe for them to hear – people who haven’t met each other for a long time having a very nice meal. Mind you… in your mother’s case…”

“She only hears what she wants to hear, anyway!” Maria sighed. “Yes, I know. Polly has been very nice to her, you know. She’s invited her to look around her store in the West End, to see if she’d like to work there. Mum knows about fashion. It’s one thing she does know about. She’d love that.”

“It’s him,” Sarah Jane said. “Wherever he goes, he touches people in ways they can’t begin to imagine. He doesn’t brag about it. I’ll swear he hardly even knows that he’s doing it. But he does it. The Doctor.”

“Is everyone here in his autobiography?” Maria asked. “All these people he brought to the party?”

“I think so. I haven’t read it all yet. It will take months.” She glanced around at The Doctor. “How DID you find time to write your life story, anyway?”

“I took a long holiday. Two months in a secluded log cabin in the Felspar mountains of Denos V,” he answered. “Peace, solitude and a plentiful supply of biros.”

Sarah Jane wasn’t sure she believed the bit about the biros. He must have used a word processor of some sort. And he must have a typing speed of a thousand words a minute to have written all of that in two months. But she accepted his answer, anyway.

“I’ll enjoy reading it,” she told him.

“I hope you will. You have the first copy. It doesn’t go on sale for another six thousand, seven hundred and sixty seven years.”

“I think I’ll have written up my review of it before then,” she answered him with a smile. “I’m honoured that you think so much of me.”

“I think of you often, Sarah Jane,” he replied with a fond smile. “And none of your lip, Harkness, Sarah Jane and I are good friends. That’s all.”

Jack Harkness pretended innocence and carved himself another slice of roast turkey. The conversation continued. Sarah Jane found herself comparing notes with Jo and Ace about Daleks. And it transpired that many others, from Mr Chesterton, Victoria and Polly, to Martha, had also had trouble with those. None of them noticed The Doctor’s expression as he listened but said nothing. Then Jack tapped the table with his knuckles and they all looked at him.

“It’s Christmas,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about Daleks at Christmas. We’re here to enjoy ourselves. So either we change the subject or I go all around the table with this mistletoe. And that includes you, Mr Chesterton, and you, Granny Jackson. Nobody gets left out.”

The Doctor’s face lightened as they all laughed at the idea of being serially kissed by Jack Harkness. The conversation continued through the dinner and pudding and the coffee and brandy in much easier tones. Everyone stayed away from that one subject that could bring the party mood down.

“You know, I was wondering,” Sarah Jane said as they all lingered over the coffee. “This house? Who does it belong to and how come we’re allowed to have a party here.”

“It belongs to The Doctor,” Mr Lumsden said. “Technically, at least. He paid for it. But I made the purchase and the deeds are held under a registered charity title.”

“I called it Christmas House,” The Doctor added. “It used to be called Wester Drumlins and some very dark and sinister things went on here until I sorted it out – with some help from my young friend Sally and her young man.” Sally waved and smiled shyly at The Doctor. “It had been empty for a long time. Nobody wanted it. So Mr Lumsden and I had a chat about it. I put a few pounds in the bank about eighty years ago and collected the interest on it, and used it to pay for the house and the renovations. And here we are. Nice and cosy.”

“But you don’t need a house, surely?” Sarah Jane said to him. “You’ve got the TARDIS.”

“After Christmas, it is going to be taken up by the National Children’s Home Association,” he answered. “It is going to be a home for needy children.”

“Oh.” Sarah Jane looked at her adopted son, and remembered her own need when she was a child and her parents were killed. If she had not been there for Luke, if Aunt Lavinia hadn’t been there for her, and for Brendan in his turn, they all would have been needy children. “I was an orphan, you know,” she said.

“So was I,” the quiet lady, Victoria said. “The Doctor gave me a home after my father died.”

“I was a runaway with no home I wanted to go back to,” Ace admitted.

“I was an orphan, too,” Jack Harkness said, in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. The Doctor looked at him and nodded. He knew that, even if Jack had never told him.

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “I know. You were a lonely boy, Jack. I know how that feels. I know you all understand that feeling to some extent. That’s why I thought you would all approve of my idea.”

“I think it’s a really cool idea, Doctor,” Clyde said. And that summed up everyone’s view.

“It’s a wonderful Christmas present for those who need it most,” Maria added. “But, Doctor… what has anyone got you for Christmas? You should have a present, too.”

“I have,” he answered. “This present, this wonderful present moment with as many of my friends together under one roof. I have a planet I can call home and people who I… if none of you mind, at least… who I can call family. That’s all the Christmas present I need.”

The Doctor’s family? None of them minded being called that. Sarah Jane stood up and walked around the table. She plucked the sprig of mistletoe from Jack’s fingers before he had time to protest and then carried on around to The Doctor. She held the mistletoe over his head and kissed him fondly as everyone else applauded.

“Merry Christmas, Doctor,” she said.

“Merry Christmas, Sarah Jane,” he replied. “Merry Christmas to everyone.”