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).

At times, his engineering skills seem rather broad: in The Moonbase he seems to have some understanding of nuclear reactors. Granted, Britain did have a nuclear submarine at the time, so maybe he served on that before the Teazer (the ship name on his uniform cap), but it might seem a bit of a stretch in a strongly simulationist system like GURPS. Incidentally, if the badge on his uniform is anything to go by, he's actually a radar operator.

Still, his primary role much of the time is that of the Action Hero, doing all the things that the other two characters don't have the brawn for. Fighting is an obvious example, and he's certainly good with his fists, but there's more to it than that. He's resilient, athletic, and, perhaps most importantly, has mastered the often vital skill of Crawling Through Ventilation Ducts. It's all useful.

He's also clearly quite intelligent, being able to come up with solutions on the fly, bluffing his way past guards, and, as already noted, being a rather better engineer than one might expect. On the downside, he can be impetuous, and overestimates his own ability on more than one occasion.

Assuming he's the same age as his actor, Ben was born in 1942, making him around 24 when he inadvertently joins the Doctor. He is resolutely working class, one of only two regular characters in classic Who to be allowed to keep a regional English accent. (Dodo lost hers, and so doesn't count, and the other one isn't until the 1980s). Together with his youthful good looks, this makes him reminiscent of a certain kind of British film star of the day - think Michael Caine or Terence Stamp.

Having been in the Navy, Ben is comfortable taking orders from lawful authority, and works well in a team. This may be a disadvantage in The Macra Terrror, where he's successfully brainwashed by a giant crab, but, in game terms, he may just have lucked out on the resistance roll. On the other hand, he has a strong sense of duty to his comrades, and is frequently willing to endanger himself to save them, volunteering for risky jobs and the like.

At the same time, though, he comes across as an ordinary bloke. Judging from The Smugglers, he likes a pint down the pub with his mates, and he apparently grew up living opposite a brewery. (Given the decade, he's probably more into bitter than lager, as he might be today). He also regularly visits nightclubs, possibly to chat up the birds. It's never mentioned on the show, but he's probably also a keen football fan, supporting one of the London clubs like West Ham or Arsenal.

He's perhaps most remembered for his relationship with his fellow companion, Polly. In their first adventure, The War Machines, he's clearly very concerned for her well-being, even though they've only just met. He insists it's because she saved him earlier on in the story, so he owes her a debt, but, frankly, he's fooling nobody. He's clearly smitten, almost from the first moment he sees her, and only toughs it out because he assumes - not unreasonably, under the circumstances - that she's way out of his league.

From then on, he's desperate to protect her at every turn, while still trying to act indifferent to her obvious charms. As noted in the DWAITAS sourcebook, he calls her "Duchess" almost from the very beginning, a nickname that's somehow both slightly teasing and deferential at the same time. He clearly doesn't believe she can look after herself in dangerous situations, which is slightly unfair, but probably derives from his view of her social class and its lifestyle. Still, his apparent belief that if she's ever separated from him for any length of time, she's probably in danger and needs rescuing, is, as it turns out, justified more often than not.

While saving Polly is possibly his top priority while travelling with the Doctor, returning home comes a close second. True, he does seem to enjoy the adventure, which is surely more than he's going to get on the HMS Teazer. (A real ship, by the way, although it was actually decommissioned in 1965). But, when it comes down to it, he is drawn to return home, perhaps out of duty to his shipmates, as well as to any family he might have left behind.

Although slightly embarrassed that he might be letting the Doctor down by leaving, he rejoins the Navy as soon as the TARDIS returns to 1966. It turns out that, after what we can infer might be a year or so's travelling from his perspective, from that of Earth, he arrived shortly before he left...

1 comment:

Nick Davison said...

I thought that this was interesting.

In 1957. Teazer was used during the making of the film Yangtse Incident. She depicted both HMS Consort and HMS Concord. Some of the most impressive scenes in the film come when this wartime destroyer is seen steaming at speed and firing broadsides in the narrow confines of the River Orwell.