Monday, 24 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Dodo Chaplet

Vicki leaves early in the third season, not long after Steven's arrival. She's initially replaced by Katarina, a Trojan handmaiden who is utterly clueless about anything invented after about 1250 BC. She dies only a quarter of the way in to her first proper story, deliberately sacrificing herself to save the rest of the party. (Marking possibly the only time in Doctor Who history in which a cliffhanger is resolved by the character that's being threatened with death... dying). Which suggests she's either an NPC, or her player got bored with her really quickly.

Next up is Sara Kingdom, snappily dressed special agent of the Space Security Service. Sort of an Emma Peel with a uniform and a laser pistol. (Almost literally - in the real world, the character concept was inspired by Cathy Gale, Mrs Peel's predecessor). A combination of bad planning and lousy dice rolls ensure that she doesn't reach the end of her first story, either. Although dying in the same story that she appeared in hasn't entirely stopped her showing up in some licensed spin-off media, she, like Katarina, is difficult to fit into a campaign that sticks to 'official' continuity.

After this debacle, the GM runs a single-handed adventure for Steven - even the Doctor's player not having turned up for it. In the course of this, Steven befriends a young woman named Anna Chaplet, and is understandably upset when, after leaving her in sixteenth century Paris, and landing in '60s Britain, the Doctor informs him that she was probably murdered the day after they left.

At which point, a vaguely-similar looking woman stumbles into the TARDIS, just before it takes off again. Discovering that she has the same surname as Anna, and a French grandfather, Steven immediately concludes that she must be Anna's descendant, which, given that she had no children when he met her, means that Anna must have survived after all. (Those of you not already well-versed in Doctor Who lore might like to pause at this point to consider what it would take for this to make even the slightest bit of sense*).

'Dodo' Chaplet is the third in the line of sixteen-year-old girls to travel in the TARDIS. Unlike Susan and Vicki, however, she's from 1966, not some futuristic society. She has, so far as we can tell, just left school, and, given her age, presumably without much in the way of qualifications. Whereas, with Susan and Vicki, we have the option of ignoring the Peril Monkey role and focussing on the skills that the character's background suggests she must have, with Dodo we don't have that option. Because she doesn't have any useful skills.

Nor is there anything in the show to indicate otherwise. Looking at her DWAITAS stats, we find that, while her attributes are what we'd expect for someone with the Inexperienced trait (and it's hard to think of a better example of a companion with that trait), her skills are lower - a lot lower, in fact. It simply isn't possible to design a player character that useless with the rules-as-written. And, the thing is, the numbers do actually make sense, given what we see of her on the show.

If there's one regular companion in the show's history that looks like an NPC, this is she. Perhaps Vicki's player has left the group, and the GM is filling in, giving the remaining two players another character to make up the numbers. Or perhaps Dodo's player had something in mind for her that she never actually got around to developing - she does have one of the shortest runs of any regular companion, after all.

If you really need to play her as a PC, about the only thing going for her is her high number of story points. In DWAITAS she also has the Lucky trait, perhaps to explain her survival, and there are a few other things here and there that you can use if you're not too bothered about actually passing the roll. But, for most players, it's probably going to be tough.

A further part of the problem is that, in all honesty, we don't know a lot about her. She lives in London, with her great-aunt, suggesting that she's an orphan. She says that she won't be missed, which (regardless of whether or not she's correct in this belief) implies an unhappy home life. She's presumably not keen on her actual name of 'Dorothea', and has picked a rather odd shortening of it as a nickname. And, well... that's it.

Certainly, she seems to be a cheerful and fun-loving person, who quite enjoys travelling in the TARDIS, for a while at least. When she first appears, she has a working class accent, although fandom seems genuinely divided over whether its local to London or Manchester. In any event, it disappears in the next episode, to be replaced with "accent-less" BBC English from then on. If we're going to be honest, the show's writers just don't seem to have been that bothered with fleshing her out, or even giving her much in the way of personality.

Given all this, it's perhaps unsurprising that the licensed Doctor Who novels have tried to fill in some of the blanks. It's also not surprising that there aren't very many of them - aside from novelisations of the TV series itself, she only appears in four books. Unfortunately, the books in question don't agree with one another. For example, one says that her parents died when she was very young, another that they had only recently died when she met the Doctor. The novel Salvation even suggests she has a borderline split personality, as a way of explaining the change in accents, as well as other inconsistencies in the way she was written on TV.

In a way, this vagueness does give us some opportunities. Maybe she does have some skills that just don't crop up in the show, relics, perhaps, of a troubled childhood? And, if we want to bring her back later on in her life, who knows what she might have grown up to be?

Ah, yes, what does happen to her after she leaves the Doctor? The show, of course, doesn't say, although, in this case, that's par for the course, because it doesn't for most other companions, either. She leaves when the TARDIS arrives in London just a few months after she first entered it, simply wandering off as soon as the Doctor's back is turned, and later sending him a note to say she won't be back.

The only novel to try and pick up the story from then on is the 1997 offering Who Killed Kennedy? Which has Dodo being murdered in the early 1970s, after being released from a lengthy incarceration in a psychiatric hospital. (She's also attacked by a rapist in an earlier scene... I'm really not sensing the love). If that isn't depressing enough for you, there is, or at least used to be, a popular fan theory that she died of "space herpes" a few years after leaving the Doctor. There is absolutely no evidence for this in anything published that I know of, although she does contract a mild case of extraterrestrial flu after losing her virginity in the 1996 novel The Man in the Velvet Mask.

Assuming you don't accept any of this as canonical, she would be, as of 2013, in her early sixties, but there's plenty of space to have her doing other stuff in the '70s or '80s, at least. Given the circumstances of her last adventure with the Doctor, for instance, it's plausible that UNIT and/or Torchwood would know of her existence. And if she really is slightly insane and inclined to have sex with strange men with alien diseases, she sounds like exactly the sort of person that Torchwood likes to recruit.

Which is potentially a way to make her a lot more interesting.

* Still wondering what I'm getting at? Okay, consider this: since Anna is single, 'Chaplet' is clearly her maiden name, and any descendants really ought to have the surname of whoever she later marries. That Steven assumes otherwise (even if he is grasping at straws) means that he must think Anna had an illegitimate son after he met her. Now, what might give him that idea...?

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