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.

I should probably pause here to explain, for the benefit of those who never studied eighteenth century British history at school, or who have forgotten it, what a 'Jacobite' is. Back in the seventeenth century, James II came to the conclusion that, since he was King, he could basically tell the government what to do. In particular, he could encourage everyone to be Catholic, like he was. (You'd have thought, given what had happened to his dad, that he'd have had a bit more sense, but apparently not). Parliament disagreed, and the result was the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The Glorious Revolution had dramatic effects on British politics and constitutional history, but, for our purposes, what matters is one of the things that was so glorious about it was that it was almost entirely bloodless. Specifically, James II wasn't actually dead, just in exile, and he wanted his throne back. He didn't get very far in this respect, but he had children, and they carried on the campaign. Their supporters were the 'Jacobites', and a number of them came, like Jamie, from the clans of the Scottish Highlands.

The Doctor meets Jamie the day after the Battle of Culloden, in which James II's grandson, Charles, having got closer than anyone else ever did to making the Jacobite dream a reality, had nonetheless been finally trounced by the English and their allies. In the course of the adventure, Jamie is essentially given the option of being executed, being sold into near-slavery in the West Indies, or escaping with his comrades to France. For no terribly clear reason, he gives up the latter option and joins the TARDIS crew instead - despite having no real idea what this means at the time.

So Jamie is a young man, serving in the (recently annihilated) Jacobite army, as a military piper. As we might imagine from this, he is physically fit, and good at fighting with a range of weapons. Although he mainly uses his fists in a struggle, in the course of his adventures, we also see him use a dagger, a sword, and various guns, all of which he seems to be reasonably skilled with.

Other physical skills he demonstrates in the course of his time on the show include horse riding and rock climbing, although he does state that he can't swim. He's also not so great on more intellectual pursuits. In fact, at least in the fourth season, before Ben and Polly leave, he's actually shown as being a bit thick.

He does improve in later seasons, though, and we can perhaps argue that much of his ignorance is due to a lack of education rather than an inherent lack of smarts. He is, after all, from the eighteenth century. Initially, for instance, he's illiterate, although he can evidently read - if rather slowly - by at least The Wheel in Space. Most likely, Victoria has been teaching him how. He's also bilingual in English and Gaelic, not bad at tactics, and he can set traps for yeti.

The latter two do, however, indicate another trait of his. In order to cope with a lot of the strangeness he sees, he tries to interpret things in ways that make sense in his world view. His yeti trap is basically the sort that cattle rustlers use (an entirely believable pastime for a Highland clansman), he describes aeroplanes as "giant metal birds", and so on. If, as often happens, he is given an explanation that he can't re-cast in this way, his most common response is to nod, either sagely or sarcastically, then basically ignore it. He also has an odd habit of going to sleep whenever some medium-term danger threatens and he can't do anything about it straight away.

All this and he can play the bagpipes, too. Perhaps mercifully, he don't see him doing this during the show, not least because he doesn't have any on the TARDIS, but it is what he's supposed to do for a living. (In the real world, Clan McCrimmon are famed for their pipers, although they were also fighting against the Jacobites in the 18th century, not for them).

While we're on the subject, his full and formal name is "James Robert McCrimmon", and he learned to play the pipes from his father, Donald. There's no indication that he has any surviving family when he meets the Doctor - if their absence has something to do with the English redcoats, it might well explain why he's fighting for the Jacobites...

Jamie is the longest continually serving classic Who companion in terms of number of televised episodes. A large part of the reason for this was the character's on-screen rapport with the Doctor, and if the players can somehow emulate that often comic banter, and the brains-and-brawn relationship, you're on to a winner.

Other than that, we can say that Jamie was intensely loyal to the Doctor, and was a decent and honourable man who would help people when he could. He does seem very shy around girls, at least during the fourth season, but in that, as in many other ways, he grows as the series progresses. Ostensibly, by The Dominators, his learning has been developed to the maximum level his brain can support (although this does sound a rather back-handed compliment).

His dress sense changes, too. Initially, he insists, as most companions do, on wearing the clothes of his native time. While he never abandons his kilt, and only rarely leaves behind his sporran, he does eventually change his other clothing to more modern (i.e. '60s) shirts and pullovers. He always carries his dirk, and frequently spends story points ensuring that guards somehow fail to spot it when they're searching him.

There's also the question of his age. It's never mentioned on-screen, although he is clearly quite young. The DWAITAS sourcebook insists that he's a teenager, which, while supported by the fact that most NPCs describe him as a 'boy', is not a specific claim I've seen anywhere else. Indeed, the recent audio story Shadow of Death gives his date of birth as 1724, making him the same age as his actor - 22, as of his first meeting with the Doctor.

An argument against this is that Jamie is in love with Victoria. At least, Frazer Hines has said that he played the part that way, although it's worth noting that Jamie is likely too honourable, and Victoria too sheltered and naive for anything to have... you know... happened. But, while this is perfectly reasonable if both characters were the same age as their actors (as Hines may have been thinking), Victoria is almost certainly meant to be sixteen at the most. Which all becomes a bit icky if Jamie is really 22.

Jamie, for all that he can't always understand what's going on, very much enjoys his life as a time traveller. Despite having remained with the Doctor for longer than almost any other companion in the show's history, he's also one of the few to have to be forced to leave. In The War Games, the Time Lords wipe his memory of all his adventures and, rather cruelly, dump him back in 1746 right in front of an English soldier trying to kill him.

If we leave it there, then, assuming he survives at all, he'll have lost all knowledge of time travel, and will only remember the Doctor from their first meeting, before he left in the TARDIS. He will also, presumably, have lost his literacy, and everything else he learned in the course of twenty televised adventures. Understandably, given that, unlike Donna, there's no real necessity for this, fans and spin-off media have conspired as best they can to reverse it.

Which brings me, firstly, to "Season 6B". This is a fan theory suggesting that there are additional adventures between The War Games, at the end of Season 6, and Spearhead from Space, at the beginning of Season 7. The theory purports to explain some continuity gaffes in The Three Doctors, The Two Doctors, and, especially, The Five Doctors, all of which feature a Second Doctor who appears to 'remember' what happened in what was actually his last story. As a theory, it makes no sense, of course, but, in fairness, neither do the gaffes.

The theory, and its implications, are well covered in the DWAITAS Second Doctor Sourcebook, but what matters here is that, in The Two Doctors, supposedly occurring during Season 6B, the Doctor is accompanied by Jamie. If we accept all this (and there are published novels that explicitly support it), then Jamie later has his memory restored and somehow re-joins the Doctor. Since this all seems to be happening under the aegis of the Time Lords, though, there's no logical reason why they wouldn't just wipe his mind again once these extra adventures finish, and send him back home.

If that's not enough, there are no less than two licensed audio stories in which Jamie has his memory returned before losing it again at the end of the story. That's not counting the one set during Season 6B itself, mind. You'd think the poor chap's brain would have been irretrievably scrambled by now!

At any rate, if it can happen three times, why not more? Or you could just ignore those events as non-canonical, and say that, in your campaign, his memory came back just the once. Perhaps the Time Lords didn't really understand the human brain, and whatever they did simply faded over time. Of course, your PCs would have to go back to mid eighteenth century Scotland to find him, but surely that can't be too hard?

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