Monday, 6 May 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Ian Chesterton

Having recently begun re-watching some of the Hartnell era episodes of Doctor Who, reading a couple of books reviewing them (I recommend TARDIS Eruditorum as the more interesting of the pair) and, of course, the DWAITAS guide I reviewed in March, my mind has naturally been turning towards how the era would work in an RPG. Most of what needs to be said already has been in the sourcebook, and said better than I can do here. But it still leaves me pondering a few issues.

As I said in my review, a game based on this era would feel very different to one based on Nu-Who. That's not just because of the 50-year gap between then and now, but because that era told, on the whole, a quite different kind of story. In a way that, for example, Troughton's era didn't. So I'm not actually planning on running a campaign set there, interesting though it might be. A one-off game, though... yeah, that's a possibility. For a con, maybe. We'll see.

Still, one of the things that strikes me, re-watching these old episodes, is how much like a role-playing game they do feel. More so than the new shows, in fact. I think a lot of this has to do with the pacing. In more modern TV shows, a lot gets elided that doesn't if you're playing it out. That a lot this was kept in in the 1960s style of show does sometimes make it easier to view things through an RPG lens.

For instance, there's a scene in 'The Dead Planet' (that is, The Daleks #1) where our heroes come across a mysterious box, and cautiously prod it with a stick from a distance a few times before convincing themselves it won't go boom. This is the sort of thing that PCs do, but one expects Matt Smith would, at best, wave his sonic screwdriver over it for half a second, and probably wouldn't even do that. Heck, that entire episode basically consists of the characters wandering around trying to figure out where they are, something that PCs tend to do a fair bit of, but that would be rather out of place in a single 45-minute TV episode.

And then there's the characters themselves, who really do, when you take a step back, look like a party of PCs. There's a good reason for that, of course, in that, just as in RPGs, if you're writing a TV drama about a small group of people who get themselves into scrapes, you need them to have a good mix of skills so they all have something to do. You can see the same phenomenon at work in shows like Primeval, Stargate, and Buffy, to name but three. It's less obvious when you've only got a couple of regular core characters, or, for that matter, outside of genre fiction, where character niches are more likely defined by personality and back-story than by the nuts-and-bolts of their skill set.

Another factor is that, especially in the first season, while the Doctor may be the title character, he's not really any more the hero than anyone else. In fact, if you had to pick a central character for the first few episodes, and didn't know the name of the show, you might well think it was Ian. At any rate, the characters are, at first, quite evenly balanced, which, again, gives an RPG feel to things. 

So, rather than repeat what DWAITAS has already done, I'm going to take a closer peek at the regular characters of the first three seasons of Doctor Who, and how they'd work in a game. It doesn't have to use the DWAITAS ruleset, of course, but I'll use that by way of illustration when needed, since it happens to be to hand.

I suppose the first question, if you want to use the characters from the show as pre-gen PCs, and fit your adventure into continuity, is which companions you choose to use. The answer to me is obvious: you use the initial set of companions, as featured in the first season and-a-bit of the show.

For one thing, there's three of them, which, together with the Doctor himself, gives you a more reasonable upper bound for the size of your gaming group. That's true for most of the rest of the second season as well, but keeping Susan in is just more iconic, and while there are some possible reasons why you might not want to do that, given a free choice, it seems the way to go. If you're going to go back to the beginning, go back to the very beginning! The first three, are also, to my mind, rather more interesting than the companions that immediately followed them.

So, let's take a look at the first of those characters: Ian Chesterton.

Ian is, arguably, the one who most closely resembles your typical player character. The way it looks is this: having been told that the game is going to be about science fiction and time travel, his player has decided to build a character with good science skills. But, because he knows that there will be adventures in which he's in the past, and those won't be much use, he bulks those out by buying up his physical stats as well, and throwing in some more broadly useful skills - including Survival, which turns out to be handy almost straight away (c.f. 'The Firemaker').

Once the campaign starts, though, he finds that he's the only player who has bothered to give his character any worthwhile physical stats at all. He becomes, by default, the action hero who does the athletic stuff, and starts spending his experience points on buying combat skills. Which will prove crucial in, for example, The Aztecs.

Seemingly, the character sheet in the DWAITAS sourcebook shows him after he's spent these points - he's certainly significantly more effective than a starting PC. How long it would take him to get this far is impossible to say, since DWAITAS doesn't actually have a formal experience system, but it's not going to be quick in the rules-as-written. Still, look at him: he's intelligent, physically fit, with reasonable (if not outstanding) skills in both science and combat, and he's handsome, too. Tell me that isn't a PC...

I suppose this is as good a place as any to discuss the issue of looks. I'd imagine most people writing up Ian's stats, in any game system that allows for it, are going to give him some kind of Attractive advantage. Because, while I'm not a perfect judge of such things, I feel on fairly safe ground saying that William Russell was a good looking chap at that age. One could, however, argue that that's just the nature of TV actors - at least those playing the sort of role he is. Strictly speaking, one should look for evidence as to how other characters react to him in the show, and base it on that. So it's perhaps a judgement call, but... I dunno... it feels right.

So much for the stat block. If we're going to play him, we need to know more than what's on his character sheet.

Ian seems to be in his mid thirties at the most, and was probably intended to be younger than the actor who played him. That would make him too young to have served in World War II, and there's no evidence that he did so either in the TV show, or the spin-off media. However, like most British men of his age, he would have done National Service, which would explain the non-sciency bits of his skill set. He's apparently a native Londoner, as are most of the early 'present day' companions.

He is clearly a product of his time, with what might seem slightly old-fashioned morals by today's standards. This does mean that he is quite chivalrous, and goes out of his way to protect the women he travels with. He is certainly quite determined about this - note, for example, how desperate he is to ensure Susan doesn't have to face the forest alone in 'The Survivors', despite manifestly being unable to do so. However, he is quite trendy for a school teacher, and evidently enjoys modern music, such as The Beatles.

I also find it notable that, having been trained in science, he sometimes finds the more outlandish situations he finds himself in difficult to accept, and tends to stick to a mid-20th century understanding of science where possible. On the other hand, like any good scientist, he is quick enough to change his mind once proved wrong (which, given the nature of the show, he usually is). He can, at times, be quite methodical in working through problems and gathering evidence.

At least early on, he quite often argues with the Doctor about the correct course of action, and sometimes with Barbara, too, since she tends to be more trusting than he is. But, on those occasions when he loses arguments, he goes along with the rest of the group. In particular, he takes a while to begin trusting the Doctor, although, given the circumstances of the first few episodes, one can't help but feel he's justified.

His primary objective is, as stated in the DWAITAS sourcebook, to return home. Which is a problem, given that the Doctor can't yet pilot the TARDIS at this point in the show's history. Presumably, he'd prefer to get back to 1963, where he started, although he actually ends up in 1965, which is surely close enough. However, even here, his desire to protect his friends can override his yearning for home: in 'Flight Through Eternity', the travellers arrive in present day New York, but it doesn't even seem to occur to him (or Barbara) to escape to the British Consulate, or whatever. Presumably, the fact that were being chased by daleks at the time was more important!

There is more that can be said about him, especially where it concerns his relationship with Barbara, but she's up next, so I'll save it until then.

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