Monday, 10 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Vicki

The Doctor's original companion, Susan, left the series early on in the second season, the first indication that the cast wasn't as fixed as it might have appeared from watching the first season alone. Unlike many other stories of the time, Susan's last episode doesn't end with the first few seconds of the one following it, giving a possible slot for continuity-minded GMs to insert stories with only Ian and Barbara as the companions. (On the flip side, the fact the Doctor temporarily forgets about Susan's absence at the start of 'The Powerful Enemy' suggests that it can't be a very long gap, if it exists at all).

At any rate, the very next episode introduces a new companion for the first time since the show started.

It's hard to come up with a role-playing analogy for what's going on here. That's because, having decided, for whatever reason, to ditch the Susan character, her player comes up with a new PC that's essentially the same idea. Perhaps she likes the character concept, but wants the chance to smooth off a few rough edges with a second attempt.

Vicki is, just like Susan, a character whose strength on paper is her science and technical skills, but who, in reality, is mainly there to be placed in danger. Like Susan, she is also an intelligent teenage girl from a futuristic society. As a result, quite a lot of what we can say about Susan can be equally well said about Vicki.

Given that, why might we want to have Vicki as one of our PCs, rather than Susan? Merely by virtue of being the first companion ever, Susan is arguably the more memorable, and there's also the interesting issue of her relationship with the Doctor. For that matter, by a quirk of fate, more TV episodes featuring Susan survive for us to re-watch than is the case for Vicki. So what advantage does Vicki have?

One reason might be that, by virtue of appearing later, if we want to stick to continuity, we have more options for using returning villains from the show. For Susan, we're stuck with using things she actually faced, which basically just means the Voord, or maybe the Sensorites. We can't even use the Daleks - the only ones who really did return on TV - because it's obvious that there are no missing adventures featuring them prior to The Dalek Invasion of Earth, in which Susan leaves. For Vicki, there are at least a few more options. So, if you really want to bring back the Menoptra or something, Vicki's your earliest option.

Even if you're not keen on giant butterflies in your stories, Vicki does have a few other things going for her. With Susan, the Doctor was driven, in large part, by his need to protect her, whereas Vicki doesn't present quite the same problem. Yes, she is a Peril Monkey, and often needs rescuing from the consequences of her impulsive behaviour, but it's not an overwhelming drive for the Doctor, as it is with Susan - which makes it easier to justify why he doesn't just turn and run back to the TARDIS at the first sign of trouble. (Compare how many times the travellers have to be somehow prevented from jumping back in it and escaping in the first season, with the way things are commonly set up in the second).

It's true, of course, that Vicki does get placed in danger a lot, and that this can drive stories in the show. In The Web Planet, for example, she spends much of the story being imprisoned while the Animus repeatedly threatens to kill her if the Doctor doesn't do as she wants. On the other hand, she does stand up to the threats quite well, and doesn't spend much time cowering or whimpering in that particular story - at least when she's not being bombarded with ultrasonics (she apparently has Keen Hearing).

Vicki also does get more of a chance to show off her supposed abilities than Susan normally did. In her first appearance, for instance, in The Rescue, we get to see evidence of some reasonably competent survival skills. She has grown a vegetable garden, tamed a wild animal, found a safe supply of water, and so on. Granted, these aren't skills that will crop up as often in a Doctor Who game as they might in other genres, but they aren't without merit.

More usefully, perhaps, in 'The Search' Vicki hot-wires a highly sophisticated electronic lock to gain access to an armoury. That's got to be more useful than correctly identifying an alien Geiger counter. Susan may be a genius, which is handy, but it's Vicki who has (at times) the practical know-how. Indeed, judging from her DWAITAS character sheet, Vicki is by far the more competent character, and has apparently boosted her stats far enough after initial character generation to be equivalent to somebody with the Experienced trait - not bad for a teenager.

Vicki joins the TARDIS in the year 2494, at around the age of sixteen. There are multiple references in the show to her considering Ian and Barbara (and thus, the viewers) as being from the distant past, much, perhaps, as we might think of people from the sixteenth century. If you're playing her, throwing in references to Lady Gaga being a 'classical composer' are the sort of thing that's perfectly in character.

We don't really know a lot about her native time, since we don't see any more of it than a single crashed spaceship with one other survivor. However, we can say that, by this time, mankind has developed faster-than-light travel, and has a number of off-world colonies. Still, this travel appears to be very slow, and perhaps not very safe, compared with that more commonly seen in other stories. That is, it seems to have more in common with travelling overseas during our own Age of Steam than it does modern jet travel. Which implies that other worlds are still very much a new frontier, with minimal direct contact with Earth.

On the other hand, the society is depicted as being highly advanced technically and socially. This explains Vicki's impressive skills; she states that she studied medicine and science at school, seemingly to what we in the twenty first century would consider at least undergraduate level. (DWAITAS describes this as 'sleep-teaching', which I don't think is accurate, as Vicki clearly resented the time it took up, suggesting that it wasn't just done while she was snoozing. Since the time in question was only one hour a week, and didn't involve regular classrooms, though, I'd agree that the knowledge was beamed into her brain by some means.)

In the social sphere, her home culture clearly represents a 1960s teenager's idea of a technological utopia, with similar cultural mores. This is most apparent, perhaps, in The Space Museum, in which she helps lead a group of groovy space-mods in a revolution against the old squares that are keeping them down, man.

'Vicki', incidentally, is her actual name; it's not short for anything. Again, this is probably meant to imply a trendy future that young viewers can relate to. She's never given a surname on screen, although the 2001 BBC novel Byzantium! claims that it's 'Pallister'. Her parents are both dead when we first meet her, although she's had about a year to get used to the fact, and she apparently has no other surviving family, nor any home to go to.

This is clearly part of her reason for joining the TARDIS, the only one of the First Doctor's regular companions, other than Susan, to choose to do so while knowing what it meant. Note that, while we the viewer, discover that, had she stayed behind, she would probably have been stranded on a near-uninhabited planet for the rest of her life, she doesn't know that when she makes the decision. So, yes, her alternatives do look bleak, but not all that bleak when you consider she still thinks that a rescue ship will arrive for her in two days time.

Instead, she joins the TARDIS crew partly because it gives her the chance at having some kind of family again, and partly for the sheer fun of it. And she does enjoy her time on board; more so, perhaps, than any other companion of the era. When, in 'The Slave Traders', the characters get a rare chance at a relaxing break, she's the one practically bouncing off the walls in her eagerness to find something exciting to do instead. Later, in 'The Watcher', she's positively bursting with enthusiasm to persuade Steven how much fun travelling in the TARDIS is, and takes delight in knowing more than he does about time travel (which is to say, anything at all).

Like Susan, she's impulsive, and somewhat naive, and these are the traits that often get her into trouble. She also has, like many later companions, a child-like sense of awe and wonder at the possibilities the TARDIS opens up, something we rarely see in her predecessors. Another personality quirk is her habit of coming up with cute names for things. This begins with Sandy the Sand-monster in The Rescue, but reaches its apogee with her decision to name the flame-throwing killer-robots of Galaxy 4 "chumblies". Thus destroying any chance of them being taken seriously ever again.

Given her shiny futuristic background and (in some episodes) ace technical skills, it's perhaps surprising that she leaves the Doctor to stay behind in Bronze Age Asia Minor, some time around 1250 BC. She's explicitly equated with the mythical Cressida, and marries King Priam's son, Troilus. The 'real' Cressida, oddly enough, is remembered largely for being unfaithful to her husband, who, in most versions of the tale, is killed in battle not long after. Hardly an auspicious end, then, although we should perhaps remember that the modern story has been moulded by three thousand years of re-telling, and might not be reliable as a literal historical account.

In any event, none of the earlier myths say what happens to Cressida after her husband's death. Perhaps some other group of time travellers arrived in the Bronze Age and whisked her off elsewhere...

[I suppose this is as good a time to ask as any: does anyone find these things interesting, or even useful? I'm going to do Steven and Dodo anyway, to round things out for the First Doctor, but the Second Doctor sourcebook has rather more details on the companions of that era than the First one had space for. So does anyone want to hear my take on later companions, such as Ben and Polly, or, in due course, Jo Grant, Tegan, and all the rest? If you have the time, let me know, whether here or elsewhere].

1 comment:

Nick Davison said...

I am really enjoying these write-ups. It is improving my knowledge of early Who no end.