Despite being born and raised in England, Lucie Miller had never been that mad about tea. It was a good thing to drink in a crisis, she’d give it that, and when it was cold, but it wasn’t a way of life. The way some people went on about it sometimes you’d think they were members of a cult in which everyone was very nice to you until they ate your brain with a scone and some jam. And, of course, a lovely pot of tea.
The Doctor was a prime example of that sort of nutter, except without the brain-scone eating thing. Fortunately, he had lots of other obsessions, all of which he could and would talk about at length, and this largely disguised his tea-fetish. Sometimes, though, Lucie would be stupid enough as to ask if he wanted a drink or (god forbid) she might actually make him a cup of tea and bring it to him and then he’d be off. Had he ever told her about the time he’d taken tea with Samuel Pepys? Wonderful man, barely blinked when a Zygon crashed through the wall a moment later. He’d been at the Boston tea-party, of course, shoving crates off the deck of the Dartmouth — he was against taxes, and regular employment. Elizabeth the Second frequently invited him to her summer soirees, though as yet he’d been unable to take up her up on the offer. He’d ended wars with cups of tea. He had a friend who always asked how many lumps you wanted and then if you wanted sugar to check if you were listening (the Doctor currently took two, but had been known to take six or none at all). He had Thoughts on the merits of mugs verses teacups, and he’d once shared these with a young J. K. Rowling, who’d agreed teacups were the superior choice, but insisted the discussion should wait until the troll had finished chasing them. On and on and on, and he didn’t even ask if she was interested in going to see Rowling, which she was, or if she wanted to go to the queen’s garden party, which she did.
And so Lucie Miller ignored the Doctor’s frantic “Lucie, I’m having a bit of a tea related problem here” as she trudged past the TARDIS kitchen at what felt like nine on a Saturday morning, but wasn’t. Presumably they were out of Earl Grey or worse — English Breakfast. Lucie didn’t have any tea stashed in her pyjama pockets and wasn’t interested in any Earl Grey related anecdotes the Doctor might have stashed in his memory. She couldn’t help, and didn’t want to help. She just wanted to go to the loo and then back to bed.
But she had to pass the kitchen again on her return journey, and this time the Doctor said, “Ow — Lucie, is that you?”
“No, it’s Santa Claus,” Lucie told him walking past the door again.
“Trying out a new look, I see,” the Doctor’s voice said. “The elves got to you, did they? They want something younger, someone who can identify with the kids. I can’t say I approve, though I’ve never been a big one for beards myself. You know, if you could spare a moment out of your busy toy-delivering schedule, I could probably use your assistance…”
There was a note of genuine distress in his usual babble, so Lucie turned back. “All right,” she said. “What’s happened?” Then once she’d looked inside she said, “Oh my god, what’s happened?” again, only in a more shocked voice.
The kitchen was usually kept spotless, either because the Doctor was a secret neat freak or because he had a secret cleaning lady hidden away somewhere. Today it was covered in debris and the Doctor himself was standing one of the worktops brandishing a frying pan.
“As I said, a minor tea related incident. Almost certainly nothing to worry about,” the Doctor said, staring into one of the corners of the room. He swung round slowly, and then smiled when he saw her. “Hello Lucie, I thought it was- Duck-”
Lucie had been with the Doctor long enough to duck when he said so, even if she couldn’t see anything obviously threatening. She dropped to the floor, and a wooden spatula flew through the space her head had recently occupied and smashed into a cupboard.
“- someone else for a minute there,” the Doctor said, batting away a flying ladle with the frying pan, “but clearly I was mistaken. How are you — duck - this — and again - morning? Did you sleep well?”
“What is going on?” Lucie demanded from the floor. “Why am I ducking flipping kitchen utensils before I’ve even had breakfast?”
“So they don’t hit you,” the Doctor explained. “As to why they’re being thrown at you, I’m afraid I don’t really know yet. But I think it’s something to do with that large, sinister looking tealeaf cloud behind you.”
“What?” Lucie said.
“Sinister cloud,” the Doctor repeated. “Behind you. If you come up here, I can give you my frying pan. You see, I need both hands to finish my… thing that I’m making to stop the cloud.”
“Thing that you’re making?” Lucie asked sarcastically, but she scrambled to her feet and, with the Doctor’s help, up onto the worktop.
“I haven’t given it a name yet, but I’m fairly sure it will work without one.”
“Whatever.” Lucie pushed up her sleeves, which were red and decorated with bobble-hatted penguins. “Gimme the frying pan.”
The Doctor handed it over, and Lucie swung it into the path of a coffee canister that was sailing towards them.
“So, what is it, then? A poltergeist? The personified rage of your kitchen?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the Doctor said. He looked up from the thing he was building from a saucepan, a cheese grater, some parts of a blender and various other shiny objects Lucie didn’t recognise. “It’s obviously some sort of sentient plant-life, one that probably looks a lot like tea in its natural state. Then, just as obviously, someone picked it, dried it, stuffed it into teabags and sold it to me.”
“And now it’s cross and trying to kill us, right?” Lucie said.
“That would be my guess,” the Doctor said, stepping neatly out of the way of a colander. “And who can blame it? I’d be cross if someone tried to pass me off as a delicious morning beverage. Fortunately, it’s already thrown all the knives and a lot of the glass, so we should be all right until I’ve finished-”
“-the thing that you’re building.”
“That’s right. Just a moment…” The sonic screwdriver whirred and three plates hurled themselves towards Lucie, “Almost done... All right…” There was a deep thunk noise and what had been a large, sinister cloud of tea-like leaves fluttered gently to the floor into a small, sullen pile of leaves. “There.”
“Wahey,” Lucie said, waving the frying pan victoriously.
The Doctor vaulted down from the counter. “Agreed.” He walked over to the small, sullen pile of leaves and examined it. “Well, I think that worked rather well, don’t you? Perhaps I should call it a Tea Trap. No, that sounds too much like Tetrap…” Still staring at the pile of leaves, he waved his hand back at Lucie. “Pass me that canister, would you?”
“The one that tried to brain me?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said, “that one. It won’t do it again, I promise. It’s quite safe now.”
“…Right.” Without putting down the frying pan, Lucie picked up the coffee canister, and joined the Doctor on the floor. He opened the tin, tipped the coffee onto the floor and then began scooping the tea-leaves inside.
“What are you going to do with it?” Lucie said, eyeing the leaves suspiciously in case they did anything funny. “Take it back to the shop and ask for a refund?”
“I doubt they’d give me one, even if I still had the receipt. They’re clearly extremely unscrupulous if they’re willing to sell whatever this is as tea.” He straightened, the closed canister held in his hands. “I’ll get the TARDIS to work out where this thing hails from and drop it off there. If we see any Twinings men around, well… so much the worse for them. Ready?”
“Er,” Lucie said, “no, not really. I’m still in my jimjams.”
“Ah,” the Doctor said. “You know, I wondered about the penguins, but I assumed it was some new fashion I hadn’t stayed abreast of. Ow,” he rubbed his arm where she’d hit him left-handed, and grinned. “Or part of the Santa Claus ensemble.” Lucie raised the frying pan, and he held up his hands. “All right, all right. You change; I’ll get some coordinates together.”
Lucie nodded. “Together we’re unstoppable,” she said like a movie-trailer announcer, and gave him back his frying pan.
Twenty minutes later she wandered into the console room in boots, jeans and a variety of different tops — you could never be sure what temperature it was going to be out there, so layers were the best way forward. The TARDIS was already in motion, and clearly had been for some time because the Doctor wasn’t fussing round the controls. Instead he was sat in one of his easy chairs, reading a book and-
“What’s that?” Lucie demanded, plonking herself down on the Doctor’s footstool where the Doctor’s feet had been a moment before and pointing at the offending object on the armrest.
The Doctor looked down. “It’s a cup of tea,” he said nonplussed. “Sorry, did you want one?”
“No,” Lucie said. “But don’t you think it’s a bit insensitive what with…. you know.” She jerked her head in the direction of the console where the coffee canister was propped up against the brake.
“No,” the Doctor said, settling back in his chair. “I think it’s delicious. And exactly what I needed after a hard morning fighting for my life. I said the same thing to Emperor Taizu after we’d beaten off that band of yetis.”
“Forget it,” Lucie said, and stood up.
“You know,” the Doctor said, “now I come to think of it, I must have had tea with all the Song emperors. Yes… let me see, it was after the yetis with Taizu, and then flying monkeys with Taizong — that was particularly excellent tea, and-” on and on and on…