Monday, 29 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Jamie McCrimmon

One clear problem with setting a game during a specific period of Doctor Who's television history is that the Doctor rarely travels with more than two companions, creating problems for any group with more than three players. Indeed, there are only four points in the history of classic Who where there are more than three regular characters. The first of these occupies the first two seasons, with the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara, plus either Susan or Vicki. The second occurs during the fourth season, when Ben and Polly are joined by a third companion.

In fact, it's interesting to note that this season includes one of the few points where we can definitely say that there must (rather than 'might') be a whole bunch of stories we don't see. Most of the stories in this period end with the beginning of the next one, so that there's no gap at all. But not only is that not true of the gap between The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones, but, in the first of those stories, Polly gets her hair cut short. By the start of the latter story it's grown back to full length, suggesting a few months have passed at the very least. Who knows where they travelled during that period?

At any rate, with the number of companions having gone back to three again, a new player has obviously joined the group. He comes up with an idea that has apparently never struck the existing players: since this is a time travel game as much as a science fiction one, there is no reason he can't play a character from the past. The character he comes up with is Jamie McCrimmon, a Jacobite piper from the year 1746.

Monday, 22 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Polly Wright

While Steven's former player decides to make his next character, Ben, more down-to-earth, Dodo's has the opposite problem, and decides to make her next character useful at... well, anything, really. The result is Polly Wright.

Polly's surname is never mentioned on-screen, and for a long time there was fan speculation as to what it might be, with a number of suggestions being made. Once it was confirmed, however, that the BBC's audition scripts for the character gave her surname as 'Wright' that became the one that everybody accepted. It's unclear as to whether this ever intended as any more than a place-holder at the time - it's also Barbara's surname, and the two characters are entirely unrelated. Possibly nobody at the BBC took it seriously as a name, but neither did they bother to come up with anything else, so it's what we have.

While her predecessors are mostly sixteen-year old girls, Polly is a grown woman. Assuming she's the same age as Anneke Wills was at the time, she's 24, notably younger than Barbara, and clearly cut from a different mould. She's a secretary from London in 1966, which, at first glance, may not be the most exciting concept ever for a player character. While the ability to brew a nice cup of tea is one that's quite important in British culture, for instance, it's rarely high on most player's wish-lists.

Monday, 15 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Ben Jackson

Steven and Dodo left in consecutive episodes at the end of the show's third season. Although the actual reasons probably had more to do with the new producer's desire for a more glamorous cast, in our imaginary RPG campaign, perhaps the imbalance between the over-powered Steven and the under-powered Dodo was becoming a bit of an issue rules-wise. Which might explain why their replacements are both down-to-earth, while still being fairly capable.

Stepping into the 'Action Hero' role recently vacated by Steven is Ben Jackson. Like Steven, he's served in the military, but that's about as far as the resemblance goes. While Steven is a fighter pilot from the future, Ben is a regular rating on a Royal Navy ship from 1966. From the perspective of someone watching the show, it's the difference between the wish-fulfilment of wanting to be Dan Dare, and the feeling that somebody who's kind of like you might still have a chance at exciting adventures with the Doctor. Which is still wish-fulfilment, admittedly, but of a different kind.

Merely from his profession, we can deduce quite a bit about the skills he ought to have. He should be good at fighting, have some ability as a mechanic or electronics operator, be able to swim, and have at least some idea how to steer a motorboat. Aside from the last one, these are all things that we do, indeed, see him doing to quite high levels of competency. In The Highlanders, for example, he's thrown into a deep firth while tied to a chair, and still manages to swim away to safety without breaking the surface. (So we'd better add escapology to his skill set, then... don't know if the Navy teaches that).

Monday, 8 July 2013

DWAITAS: 2nd Doctor Sourcebook

The Second Doctor's era is a crucial one in the development of Doctor Who as a series. There's the obvious point that the regeneration itself, and the show's re-invention that followed it, are a large part of why it has survived so long. But it's also significant that much of what we now associate with the show originated with the Second, not the First, Doctor. The First Doctor's adventures, as I mentioned in the previous review, were quite different to what we have now, and often at least tried to be fairly sophisticated science fiction, with a focus on alien culture, moral quandaries, and the practicalities of surviving in a hostile past.

While there certainly are some pretty sophisticated stories in the Second Doctor's era (The Mind Robber particularly springs to mind), there was also a change in focus. This era became about monsters in a way that the first three seasons had never really tried to be - aside, of course, from the Daleks. Other features of the era that have since been commonplace include the 'base under siege' trope, with an isolated outpost menaced by hostile aliens. That's first seen in The Tenth Planet, the very last Hartnell episode, but it becomes much more common under Troughton, notably describing all but one story in the fifth season.

It's also the first time we have a companion joining for the sheer fun of time travel, and the last of the truly reluctant companions. In this respect, the dynamic of the show is also becoming something we more readily recognise today. It's also, for that matter, the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver. This, incidentally, is first seen in Fury From the Deep, a story in which it's only used to, of all things, undo some screws! Even in this era, it gets to do more later on...

This gives the second volume in the DWAITAS sourcebook series an advantage that the first volume could never really have. The stories here are more familiar in style, more the sort of thing somebody who'd only ever seen Nu Who (or, indeed, much of the colour era of the classic series) would expect. In particular, there are a host of monsters to throw into our own scenarios, where in the first sourcebook there were only Daleks and a bunch of alien cultures - many of which, like the Drahvins and the Moroks, look essentially human.