Monday, 20 May 2013
DW Companions as PCs: Barbara Wright
Imagining that the first two seasons of the show had actually been an RPG, what can we say about Barbara? Knowing that the game is going to be about time travel, Barbara's player has decided that History skill will be particularly useful, and has built her character around this idea. However, clearly that won't be enough, since History is likely to be even less usable on alien planets than Ian's science skills will be in the past. So she saves plenty of points to round her character out with social skills.
As the campaign proceeds, this turns out to have been a good idea. They're particularly key in The Aztecs, in which she not only manages to carry off her masquerade as a goddess for most of the story, but, at one point, talks the bad guy out of revealing her secret when he sees through it. They also become more relevant when the show begins to focus more on the science fiction elements than on time-travelling into the past (as had been the original idea). From an RPG perspective, her History skill, good though it is, isn't always terribly helpful: it's fine for providing exposition in the TV show, and sometimes in working out what's going on, but, once the scene is set, it doesn't tend to move the plot along.
In DWAITAS terms, Barbara's social skills are reflected in her Convince and Subterfuge skills and her Empathic trait. She's good at talking to people, and good at understanding them. This gives a good focus to the character, as well as removing the need for more physical attributes. One might also note that her First Aid skill, apparent in episodes such as 'The Edge of Destruction', is something that's generally handier in RPGs than it is in TV shows.
She also, building on this, has the Attractive advantage. True, it can be hard, in a TV show, to see whether this trait is having its usual game effect of improving the reactions of those she meets. However, we can say that more than one NPC over the course of her adventures either falls for, or lusts after, her. Ganetus in The Daleks is just the first such example, and it's perhaps notable that he's supposed to be a member of a 'physically perfect' race. Which is as much evidence as you're likely to get.
As to the character, Barbara is a few years younger than Ian, in her late twenties or early thirties, and, again, probably slightly younger than Jacqueline Hill was at the time she played her. She lives in London, but came from Bedfordshire before that, and was presumably born there. She likely moved to London when she became a history teacher, and evidently knows Ian well by the time the series starts, suggesting they've been working together for some time.
Her role in the show is a somewhat unusual one for classic Who. Although there are other exceptions, most 'classic' companions fall into one of three broad types. They can be Action Heroes, with good physical skills, Science Nerds with good technical skills, or Peril Monkeys, whose primary function is to be menaced by the monsters. While Barbara is certainly intelligent and resourceful, and does get menaced on more than one occasion, neither is really her key role. Mostly, she's there as a mother figure, as a social glue that holds the group together, and as a voice of conscience.
That last function is a particularly important one in the first season, during which the Doctor is a very morally ambiguous figure, and can't at all be relied upon to do the right thing. An early example of this in 'The Forest of Fear', in which Barbara puts herself at some risk to help the injured cave man, Za, simply because it's the moral course of action. As this indicates, she can be courageous when she needs to be, although there are also moments in some of the earlier stories when she's on the verge of breaking down over the apparent hopelessness of her predicament.
Because, let's face it, she and Ian have been forcibly kidnapped by the Doctor. Few of the companions from this era of the show joined the Doctor knowing what they were letting themselves in for, but Ian and Barbara are the only ones who the Doctor deliberately takes with him against their will. Which does rather explain why her primary objective is returning to 1963, even though her moral nature also obliges her to help others along the way whenever she can. (She's pretty ruthless towards daleks though - she spares them no mercy once she figures out what they're actually like).
Daleks aside, Barbara is generally quite trusting, and she is also much more ready to accept things beyond her experience than is Ian. Indeed, the pair often have arguments about this - given the context of the show she is, of course, usually proven right. Like Ian, she also argues with the Doctor, but, unlike Ian, she usually wins him over. It becomes clear from an early stage that the Doctor trusts and respects her, and understands that her natural empathy is a useful trait that he doesn't possess.
When the show opens, she is already close friends with Ian, and it's plausible (although never actually stated) that they have an attraction towards one another. Between the end of 'Desperate Measures' and the opening of 'The Slave Traders', the pair are relaxing in a pleasant Italian villa, perhaps the first time they haven't been constantly running from something or other since they stepped inside the TARDIS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's apparent from this point on that they have become romantically involved. Having said which, this being the BBC in the '60s, we do only see hints of this on-screen.
Further evidence for the characters' mutual attraction comes from the modern Sarah Jane Adventures, in which we're told that Ian and Barbara married shortly after they left the TARDIS. On Doctor Who itself, only Sarah Jane and K9, of all the 'classic' companions, have returned in the new show. But there's no reason that that has to be the case in a game, and the concept has been used in a number of officially licensed spin-off media - although only once, so far as I can tell, for Ian and Barbara. We're also told in SJA's 'Death of the Doctor' that the pair have become professors at Cambridge, something that their personal experience of history and futuristic science must surely have helped with, since it isn't an especially common career path for secondary school teachers.
Although this means that we know that they were both still alive as of 2010, they'd probably be more effectively brought back when they are still relatively young and fit. Which means, I'd suggest, adventures set in the late '60s or the '70s. They can, of course, also be useful NPC sources of information at almost any time for groups of all-new PCs. UNIT, for example, is surely at least aware of their presence. Note, on the other hand, that they would require a lot of persuading to voluntarily travel in the TARDIS again, given their previous experience of desperately trying to escape from the thing for two years solid!
Which brings us to the Doctor himself. I'm not going to spend long on him, since he's covered well enough in the DWAITAS First Doctor Sourcebook. It's worth re-stating, though, that, especially in the first season, he's not yet a hero, and not even, much of the time, the focal character in the stories. That begins to change from about The Dalek Invasion of Earth onwards, which is, of course, also the point that Susan leaves. There's a possible argument to be made here that he's so busy trying to protect his granddaughter that everything else becomes secondary. She has to leave in order to give him the freedom to be more.
Taking our 'player character' analogy again, the Doctor's player has, like Ian's, decided to build up decent science skills. Unlike Ian's player, however, he has gone all-out, giving his character numerous disadvantages to leave himself enough points for the skills. Some of his physical stats are abysmal, and he's made the character absent-minded, argumentative, and insatiably curious. This means that he's far better at the things Ian's supposed to be good at than Ian is, which is partly why the latter shifts to doing more physical stuff.
Thus, at least until he becomes a more clearly defined central character for the show, he at first fills the Science Nerd niche. His other key role is that he's the only one who can operate the TARDIS and ultimately get the rest of the party out of whatever danger they've managed to blunder into. There's even a scene in The Daleks where Ian briefly considers leaving him behind as a burden to the rest of the group, until Barbara points this out!
Of course, he grows with time, and, by the third season, he's a much more potent and focal character, and far more likely to go out and pro-actively fix things rather than running away from danger. That becomes even more the case once he regenerates into his physically fitter and more charismatic second self.
But, long before we go there, we have to look at the very first companion of all: Susan.