Monday, 17 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Steven Taylor

Ian and Barbara left the show almost at the end of the second season, firmly cementing the idea that, in Doctor Who, all companions are temporary. Indeed, the Doctor goes on to have a further six companions over the course of the next twelve stories. I'm going to deal with two of those quite briefly, because they're difficult to fit into a game that sticks to continuity, and I'm going to pass on Ben and Polly altogether for now, because I feel they more properly belong with the second Doctor.

And I'm going to ignore John and Gillian on the grounds that who the heck wouldn't?

That leaves me with two that deserve more discussion. In our imaginary TV-show-as-RPG-campaign, Barbara's player has decided to leave the group. The GM incorporates a method for her character and Ian to finally get back to their own time into his latest scenario, thus completing their plot arc. Ian's player agrees, because it fits the story, and the two metaphorically walk off hand in hand into the sunset.

This leaves Ian's player, of course, with a need to generate a new PC. Back in the beginning, you'll recall, he went for a character with good science skills, but rapidly found himself in the role of Action Hero because nobody else had bothered to buy any physical stats. (To be fair, by now, Barbara has spent a few experience points on combat skills, using them, for example, to shoot a sand monster with a flare gun, but it was never her forte). This time, he decides, he might as well take on the role from the beginning, and design a character specifically to be an Action Hero.

The result is Steven Taylor, dashing space combat pilot.

Even more so than Ian, Steven very much comes across as a player character. He has a good range of combat skills, high physical stats combined with a perfectly reasonable intelligence, and, well... space pilot does sound like the sort of occupation players come up with in SF games. His skills as represented in the DWAITAS sourcebook are unusually high, even considering his Experienced trait (although his basic attribute scores are in line with the usual rules). To generate a character like that from scratch you'd have to cut down to just 3 story points, which is woefully low. The implication, as usual, is that this represents him towards the end of his time with the Doctor, when he's had time to improve.

It's also worth noting that some of the skills he'd logically possess don't matter much in this sort of game. For instance, while being a combat pilot is possibly a good way to impress the chicks, Doctor Who isn't Top Gun, so you're rarely going to actually need it. Which may help compensate for him having quite so many high-level skills.

As a fighter pilot, we can also reasonably assume that he has skills in things like engineering and combat medicine, although we don't see much evidence of either on-screen. We do know he's good at Survival, since he's been hiding out for two years when he first appears. He isn't given the Attractive advantage in the DWAITAS book, but it's justifiable, as a number of women seem to find him desirable - attention he enjoys.

His background is a little vague, and - being critical here - his personality isn't always consistently written from story to story. He comes from our future, at a time when Earth is just beginning to colonise the stars. Space flight seems fairly routine, and he's familiar with a number of alien races - including daleks. We're never given a date, although we are at least told that it's well before 3000 AD. Although space travel seems to be more routine than it is in Vicki's time, the society appears more primitive in other respects. Most likely it's the 23rd or 24th century (and so, earlier than Vicki) and space travel only seems routine because humans aren't actually travelling very far yet in galactic terms.

He does make it clear, when he's first encountered, that he was fighting in a war when he crashed on the planet Mechanus. It's never made clear who the sides in the war are, although it's likely humans versus aliens of some kind. Although he does seem fairly relaxed for a military man, his training and experience of a long fight against hostile aliens still shapes his view of the world - at least in some stories.

Perhaps as part of this, he also seems to have significant issues trusting others. (Of course, in the show, he's often right...) Mind you, when he refuses to believe that the TARDIS has travelled through time in 'The Watcher', in all fairness to him, he does have some pretty good evidence that the Doctor and Vicki are just making it up! Finally, he can sing and play the piano. Which may not crop up in many games, but you never know.

I should probably also mention HiFi the toy panda, listed on the DWAITAS character sheet as Steven's only notable piece of equipment... but without any explanation! In Steven's first episode, 'The Planet of Decision', the other characters discover him in a cell where he appears to have been kept in solitary confinement for quite some time. The only 'person' he has had to talk to in all that time is the aforementioned stuffed toy, which seems to have been some sort of mascot or lucky charm on his fighter-ship.

He is not, at this point, particularly sane.

Later in the episode, he risks his life to save the toy, and takes it on board the TARDIS with him. He's still got it in the next episode, but apparently leaves it on board, and it's not mentioned again in the TV show. But at least now you know.

Although, partly because so few of his episodes survive to re-watch, Steven isn't the most memorable of Doctor Who companions, there is one unique advantage to a scenario set during his era. For most of the First Doctor's run, he is travelling with at least one, and usually two, companions who are desperately trying to get back to modern day Earth. This makes it impossible to run a game set in a contemporary setting; everything has to be historical or futuristic. Aside from Planet of Giants, which is a bit of an oddity, the only regular contemporary story in the era is The War Machines - in which, of course, the companion in question does, indeed, leave.

Now, in fairness, 'contemporary' for these purposes means, broadly speaking, the mid to late '60s, or maybe a little later at a stretch. It's hard to imagine Ian and Barbara, for example, considering the 2010s to be their idea of the 'present day' that they've been searching for. But there's a point in the first half of the third season where the Doctor's only companions are Steven and Vicki, neither of whom have any attachment to 'present day' Earth. A contemporary adventure set during this time might even explain why nobody seems to question the Doctor's identity in The War Machines...

Anyway, Steven leaves the Doctor to become a leader to a group of people on an unnamed planet in the 'distant future'. (The date is unclear, but it's implied we're talking the sort of enormous number that Russell T Davies later liked to throw about). You'd probably have to set up something specifically as a sequel to The Savages to use him after that, but it's not impossible.


Nick Davison said...

Loved to hear about HIFI the toy panda

Jeffrey C. Jacobs said...