Monday, 14 July 2014

The Companions That Weren't: The '70s

Classic Doctor Who changed many times over the years of its run, but two particularly seismic shifts in its production stand out. The first, and most obvious to the casual viewer, was the move in 1970 from black-and-white to colour, which also involved many other major changes in the way the show was made. The second, which is perhaps easier to see with hindsight than it might have been at the time, was the arrival of John Nathan-Turner as producer (or, as we'd say now, "showrunner").

This involved a significant shift in the show's direction and style, with a lot of changes behind the scenes as well. For the purposes of this blog, though, what matters is that, coincidentally, it happened in 1980. And that means that there are three well-defined periods of the show's history, which just happen to line up with chronological decades. I previously looked at four characters from the '60s era of the show who never became companions in reality, but who perhaps could in our own RPG campaigns. Now it's time to do the same for the '70s.

We begin with Hal the Archer from the Pertwee story The Time Warrior. One reason he's a choice is that he came quite close to becoming a companion in real life. The producers dropped the idea before the role was even cast, so it never really got anywhere, but it's easy to see him in the same mould as Jamie, and he's certainly quite heroic in his one story.

Monday, 30 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Romana

Leela leaves at the end of the fifteenth season. The campaign has been a fairly odd one for some time now, with only two players for the last three seasons, and for some extended periods before that. Perhaps more significantly, there has been something of an imbalance between the two characters. Sarah Jane and Leela were certainly competent characters, but even they were clearly sidekicks to the Doctor, the character who has been there, in one form or another, for, well... fifteen seasons now.

So, perhaps inspired by an NPC in The Invasion of Time - the first time we'd ever seen an adult female member of the Doctor's species - the other player decides to create a character who can truly be the Doctor's equal. She creates the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, better known as Romana.

Romana is a recent graduate of the Time Lord Academy, and there's some indication that she is even more intelligent than the Doctor. Certainly, she passed the Academy's final exams with much higher marks than he did, although, to be fair, the Doctor may have been the sort of person who was too busy messing about to actually study. Be that as it may, Romana is, for obvious reasons, vastly less experienced than her co-traveller. This, as it turns out, affects both the skills on her character sheet and, more generally, her personality.

Monday, 16 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: K9

Early in the fifteenth season, a new player joins the group, and comes up with an unusual idea for a PC. Basically, he's going to...

No, wait, that's not right, let's try that again. Here's what actually happened in our imaginary RPG campaign:

Ever since Harry's player left, the group has been down to just two players plus the GM. It's been there before, of course, but with the UNIT players away for good, there's no sign of it changing on the horizon. The GM is finding this a bit limiting, with the players often needing a bit of back-up to get things done. So, when they take a shine to a robot character he's just introduced, he decides to make the tin dog into a "Party NPC": a GM-controlled character that nonetheless travels with, and helps out the PCs on their adventures.

Yes, I'm arguing that K9 is actually an NPC. But the title of this little series is "Companions as PCs", and K9 is usually regarded as a companion, so what on Earth am I up to?

Monday, 2 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Leela

Sarah Jane leaves part way through the fourteenth season after what is (at the time) the longest run of any companion on the series. Her player is ready for something new, and comes up with a concept that's quite different from anything seen so far: her new character is going to be a Victorian street urchin.


Bear with me.

As it turns out, the GM is already planning a scenario set in set in Victorian London, so this will be perfect. He'll be able to work the character in seamlessly, and have her back-story relevant to the plot. There's only one problem: he hasn't got very far with planning the scenario yet, which he wants to make really authentic. The Doctor's player has badgered him into running a solo game while the other is away on holiday, but, even so, the GM has two more scenarios more or less ready to go before he feels ready to run the Victorian spectacular.

So he's got a suggestion: why not run a temporary PC for those two sessions? That way the arrival of the 'real' PC can be something of a surprise to the Doctor's player, and it will enhance the plot even more. He can even work in a short story arc for the temporary PC to his existing plots, and everything will be great.

Monday, 19 May 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Harry Sullivan

Mike Yates leaves the show at the end of the eleventh season. His player, however, who has only been able to attend occasional sessions of late, finds that he will be able to game on a more regular basis from now on. The Doctor's player is pondering a change, too, and briefly considers a physically weaker, more intellectual persona for his next regeneration - something, in fact, not unlike his original character concept.

So Yates' player decides that the party needs another action hero, similar to Ben or Steven way back in the third and fourth seasons. Although the GM has largely given up on "defending the Earth from aliens" adventures by this point, he has a few UNIT stories planned for when the players of the Brigadier and Benton are able to make it. So, since he'll be an action hero, it makes sense for the new PC to come from UNIT, too. Having just played Yates, though, the player is keen for something a little bit different this time.

And so he creates Harry Sullivan. Although he's a military member of UNIT, he's a doctor, not a soldier - the British branch's Medical Officer, in fact. He's also one of only two UNIT military staff members that we see in the classic series who aren't from the British Army (the other is Corporal Bell). Instead, Harry is a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Medical Service.

Monday, 5 May 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Sarah Jane Smith

Jo Grant leaves the show at the end of the tenth season. (Actually, it's worth reflecting on that statement for a moment; not many genre shows even have a tenth season, and even fewer have so many of their most popular episodes still ahead of them at that point...) Her player has come to the end of what passed for a story arc, and comes up with an idea for a new character.

One of the other players had briefly considered the idea of acquiring an NPC Contact - a mysterious journalist named 'Smith' who would have inside info on weird goings on for the players to investigate. With the campaign definitively moving back to outer space adventure, the idea is shelved as not worth the experience points, but it's given Jo's former player an idea. And so she creates investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith.

In the real world, Sarah is consistently voted the most popular classic series companion. Likely for that very reason, she remains the only classic companion to appear in Nu Who so far, and also appeared in not one, but two, spin-off TV series... even if one of them deservedly sank without trace after the pilot episode. That aside, she clearly had a long and illustrious career, and often as the central character in her own right.

Monday, 21 April 2014

DWAITAS: 4th Doctor Sourcebook

The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook was always going to be the most challenging for Cubicle 7 to pull off, at least among the first seven of the series. There are a number of reasons for this, starting with the simple observation that there are far more televised stories for this era than for any other. Each of the first three books spent an average of about four and a half pages per story, filling out the remainder of the 160 pages available with a broader overview and rules.

The 4th Doctor has 41 televised stories: you can immediately see why the arithmetic there is going to pose a problem.

Many multi-volume guidebooks of Doctor Who history have addressed this issue by splitting the era between two volumes. Cubicle 7, however, have taken the approach of just giving us more. This volume is a full 256 pages, over half again the length of the others. It's also noticeably jam-packed with content to an even greater extent than in the three we've already seen. 

However, sheer length alone is not the only problem with bringing the 4th Doctor era to life. The audience is likely to be demanding, since this era is widely acknowledged as the best and most popular of the entire classic run. In polls to determine people's "favourite Doctor", only the 10th regularly offers up any challenge (and which of the two comes out on top largely depends on the demographics of your poll respondents). Looking specifically at the classic era, polls of "favourite DW stories" are dominated by Tom Baker, with over half of the entries in any top ten typically coming from this period.