Monday, 19 January 2015

DW Companions as PCs: Melanie Bush

Peri leaves part way through the twenty-third season. Her player is getting a bit tired of the GM having NPCs drool over her character, and decides to create a new PC that does just as much screaming, but doesn't have the Attractive advantage.

After a rather weird dream in which she turns up to the next game session only for the GM to hand her a character sheet with a talking penguin on it, she instead creates uptight scream queen Melanie Bush, better known simply as 'Mel'. The character's surname is, incidentally, never mentioned on screen, but it's been confirmed pretty conclusively by her real-world creator, so, as with Polly in the '60s, I'll stick with it.

Along with Adric, Mel is, unfortunately, one of the two prime contenders for "least popular companion ever." Not everyone agrees, of course, and even less agree as to which one should actually come bottom, but that's the broad fan consensus. As with Adric, though, her character sheet isn't actually all that bad. In her case, however, we do have to rather work at it for that to be the case. The problem being that, like Peri before her, Mel's only real function on screen is to scream at the monsters and get into trouble.

Monday, 5 January 2015

DWAITAS: 7th Doctor Sourcebook

And so, with this sourcebook, we reach the end of the classic era of Doctor Who. The broad fan consensus on this era is that, at least in its last two seasons, it marked a significant improvement over the era that preceded it. While, for some, that might be merely damning with faint praise, there are many who regard it as a true return to form, albeit one that came far too late to stave off the threat of cancellation. Because, frankly, by this point, most of the audience had already left.

But with a sourcebook like this, published so long after the fact, that's no longer an issue. A more significant problem, perhaps, is one that this volume shares with the Sixth Doctor Sourcebook, and, looking ahead, with that for the Ninth: the Seventh Doctor only has twelve stories, just one more than his immediate predecessor. Which makes it tougher to find enough to say to fill the book out.

And, yes, as we might expect, the entries on the individual stories are considerably longer than they were in volumes prior to #6 - about twice as long, on average, as those in the first three volumes. However, on the positive side, it also means that this book has room for quite a lot of discussion on the general themes of the era, and for the background to what's going on in these last dozen stories.

The book begins, as usual, with descriptions of the Doctor and his companions. Somewhat oddly, Sabalom Glitz is in this chapter alongside the genuine companions. It's true enough that he fills a somewhat companion-like role in his one adventure with the Seventh Doctor, but, still, it is only one, and he was in two with the Sixth Doctor. Anyway, players should note that this is a proper PC version of the character, not the NPC one from the previous book - a difference marked largely by a full set of Story Points, although there are some other improvements, too.

Monday, 22 December 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Peri Brown

Tegan leaves part way through the twenty-first season. Her player hasn't quite given up on the idea of playing a colonial, instead of yet another Brit, but evidently feels that her next character should do a lot more screaming and a lot less of anything useful, bringing back some of the flavour of the campaign's early days.

The result, on the basis of what someone has assured her is an entirely typical name in the US, is American college student Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown.

In the actual show, Peri's primary functions are to look pretty and scream at the monsters. Neither, it has to be said, is a really sound basis for a player character. Indeed, with the recent departure of Turlough, we're back once again to the "Doctor plus one female companion" model, which also doesn't fit wel with the metaphor of an RPG. It's a model that the show will stick with, more or less, from here on in, but for our purposes, we're going to brush that aside and try to look at Peri as she might fit into a more typical group.

This isn't easy, not least because if the writers had any clear concept of her personality traits beyond "she's American", they made a poor job of fleshing them out. Granted, this is more of a concept than they had with Dodo, but that's damning with faint praise.

To be honest, Peri isn't a very proactive character, and she's often getting lost (she certainly doesn't have Sense of Direction), getting captured, failing to run away from things, and so on. Presumably, she's gaining Story Points from this, retreading the 'Peril Monkey' role of '60s companions like Victoria. To make her more than that we have to, as we did with some of those characters, look at what she's supposed to be good at, rather than what skills she effectively demonstrates on screen.

Monday, 8 December 2014

DWAITAS 6th Doctor Sourcebook

Okay, it's confession time: the Sixth Doctor's era is my least favourite in all of Doctor Who.

Nor am I alone in this. While the Sixth Doctor does have his fans, they aren't terribly numerous. His run of stories are generally reckoned to be amongst the weakest in the show's history, rising to the level of mediocrity once or twice, but more often falling short of such a target. Indeed, while I am sure there are those who will disagree, I'd argue that they're the only two seasons in the entire run that haven't included even one story I could honestly call 'good'. For that matter, by popular acclaim, the single worst Doctor Who story ever broadcast is the Sixth Doctor's debut, The Twin Dilemma.

I am, of course, compelled by the Sacred and Unwritten Rules of Fandom, on pain of being banished to the Planet of the Ming-Mongs, or some such, to follow that up with "...but he's a lot better in the audios." That caveat is, it seems, as mandatory as it is true, but, sadly it's not relevant here. Since, of course, Cubicle 7's license doesn't extend beyond the TV series itself, and the best they can do is make oblique references to the spin-off material. (Which they do, for example, on p.22)

At any rate, I wasn't exactly bursting with excitement to read this particular instalment of the DWAITAS Sourcebooks. Yet, when you think about it, this book does have two advantages that it's predecessors didn't. Perhaps the more obvious of these is that the Sixth Doctor only has eleven televised stories. With Cubicle 7 insisting that every book in the series has to have at least 160 pages, you should at least have space for a pretty detailed discussion of every one of them. The downside of this, though, is that you're in danger of resorting to spurious padding to try and fill the page count up.

Monday, 24 November 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Vislor Turlough

A new player joins the group in the twentieth season, briefly bringing the number of players up to four again. His initial character concept is, in many respects, similar to that of Adric: a high-tech rogue from an alien planet. But this player is older, and the character more complex, and less annoying.

Turlough is the last in the line of alien companions, and also the last male companion of the classic era. When we first meet him, he is a sixth form student at an expensive boarding school somewhere in the south of England, and so is presumably about eighteen years old. He is desperate to escape from Earth, but, while he admits to the other players that his character is alien, Turlough's player gives out no information at all about his background, or how he got to Earth in the first place. It's entirely possible that he's left this blank, with the intention of filling in a backstory later; it would explain why he sometimes mentions his homeworld, but never actually says what it's called.

Then again, it's possible that he's just being cagey. The "rogue" aspect of the character is only partly built on the obvious skills of lockpicking, devising traps, and so on, and is far more based in deception and similarly subtle methods. Turlough seems to be a master of Fast Talk, Bluff, or whatever else your system might call it. Right from his first story, we see him getting another student into trouble to divert attention from himself, and successfully tricking the headmaster into falling for the ruse. There are other instances in later stories where he uses the same skill again, albeit usually with less base motives.

Monday, 10 November 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Tegan Jovanka

Romana leaves towards the end of the eighteenth season. After so long playing her, albeit in two different forms, her player wants to try something different. Her last character was an intellectual aristocrat from a sophisticated and highly advanced civilisation, so the player comes up with the exact opposite of that.

She's going to play an Australian.

Joking aside, though, what is the character concept for Tegan Jovanka? When we look back through the previous companions on the series, most of them have actually turned out to be fairly identifiable character concepts that would fit in this sort of RPG. They haven't always been executed well, but the concept itself has usually been clear and perfectly viable. We have had a heroic space pilot, a number of soldiers and scientists, a secret agent, an investigative journalist, a barbarian warrior, and so on. With Tegan Jovanka, we have an air hostess.

Monday, 27 October 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Nyssa

Romana leaves towards the end of the eighteenth season. Her player is unable to attend the next session, but that's okay, because a new player is considering joining the group - bringing it back to its original size of GM plus four players. But the new player isn't quite sure she wants to become an ongoing member of the group, so she offers to play a one-off character for the next adventure, and see how it goes.

Probably she's heard of Romana (perhaps she's a friend of that player), and knows that she's left, so she sees an available niche, and designs a character that fills much the same function. Which brings us to Nyssa of Traken, who does, of course, become a regular PC from Logopolis onwards.

Nyssa, like Romana, comes from a technologically advanced culture. Quite how advanced is hard to say, because Doctor Who doesn't, if we're honest, have a terribly consistent view of what RPGs call "tech levels". With a few exceptions here and there, there doesn't appear to be functionally much difference between any of the futuristic societies we see. They may emphasise different bits, sure, but so long as they've got starships, ray guns, and any specific gadgets needed to drive the plot (the miniscope from Carnival of Monsters, say) they mostly look pretty much the same. Even the Time Lords don't seem that different, apart from the fact they have time machines.