Monday, 5 August 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Victoria Waterfield

Ben and Polly leave in the penultimate episode of the fourth season. With Jamie already filling the 'action hero' role, it's only Polly that needs to be replaced.

If we're honest, it's been hard to really see Doctor Who as the account of a role-playing game since The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or thereabouts. That's because it's about that time that the Doctor really becomes the hero of the show, and the other regular characters 'just' his companions. In the first season, he may have been the title character, and, to some extent, the focal point, but he was still more or less evenly balanced with Ian and Barbara, if not Susan.

But, from the second season onwards, he's much more obviously the hero, and that becomes even more the case once Troughton takes over and the mythology of the Doctor really starts to build. This works well in a TV show, but having most of the PCs be in the shadow of one of the others isn't such a good recipe for an RPG. The stories arguably also diverge from a 'gaming' look as they become more tightly plotted, again, from about the second season onwards.

Nonetheless, I'm going to stick with the analogy, at least for now. Because, why not?

Ben's player has decided to leave the group. As he did with Barbara's player, the GM constructs a scenario in which our heroes succeed in their quest to return to 'present day' London, wrapping up their story. (As it turns out, this is a bit of a flop when Ben's player is unable to make the final session, causing the GM to wrangle things so that the character stays unconscious for most of what should be his dramatic finale...)

At any rate, Ben's departure logically also means Polly's, and her player, once more, has to create a new character. Her first idea is an annoying Scouser who threatens to be Dodo Mark II until everyone begs her to try something different. So instead, possibly inspired by the TV show Adam Adamant Lives!, she creates a nineteenth century girl trapped out of her own time, forcing the GM to work Victorian scientists into his next big Dalek story. Which works surprisingly well, all things considered.

(Adam Adamant, for those of you not familiar with it, was the next TV program that Doctor Who's original producer, Verity Lambert, went on to make after leaving the show. It stars an Edwardian gentleman adventurer trapped in the modern day with a plucky '60s girl as a sidekick).

The result is Victoria Waterfield. Victoria is a recently orphaned teenage girl from the year 1866, who joins the TARDIS crew because the only viable alternative is dying on the planet Skaro. She is, for what it's worth, the last of these 'reluctant' companions, since it's not too much later that the Doctor finally gets the hang of steering the TARDIS, enabling him to get anyone home if they don't want to stay.

There is no question that Victoria is a 'Peril Monkey' character. Indeed, she's just about the epitome of that archetype, and could hardly look more like a damsel in distress if she tried. The first time we see her, for example, she is being held prisoner in a locked room, her only companionship the little birds she feeds through her barred window. Talk about laying it on thick.

As a middle class Victorian teenager with no special powers, she's not really a typical player character, and she's another one that's probably quite tough to play while trying to stay true to the series. She presumably has a classical education, and she's probably a whiz at something like needlepoint, but neither of these are desperately useful skills in most games. She doesn't even seem particularly capable at surviving on her own.

Having said that, she isn't entirely without merit. Her father was an inventor, and in some of Victoria's later episodes, we see that she has a good grasp of nineteenth century science, especially chemistry, and at least knows how to help out round the laboratory. She also uses her charm and apparent vulnerability to lull people into a false sense of security, or otherwise mislead them. She's not above, for example, screaming at things that aren't there in order to distract the bad guys. She is also caring and empathic, as witnessed by her concern for the Doctor shortly after she first meets him.

There are even occasional moments where she does something surprisingly useful more or less out of the blue. Maybe she's spending story points here, rather than using skills she's otherwise quiet about, but, either way, it can be helpful. In Tomb of the Cybermen, for instance, she picks up a gun and shoots a cybermat. Perhaps even more remarkably, there's a scene in Fury From The Deep where our heroes are locked in a makeshift cell. Jamie and the Doctor ponder how to get the grill off the room's ventilation duct in order to make their escape... before Victoria picks the lock on the door with a hairpin.

Maybe she taught herself that trick while being held prisoner in for months on end in Evil of the Daleks. She'd have had plenty of time to practice, and while it obviously didn't work in the long run, there could be all sorts of reasons for that which don't involve failing to get the door itself open.

All the same, these are rare flashes of aptitude, and her ability to convince people that she's harmless is often marred by the fact that she really is fairly harmless. One approach to playing her as a PC might be to give her the Inexperienced trait, or its equivalent. In DWAITAS this would mean lowering some of the skills on her 'official' character sheet, but, in fairness, she isn't going to have much use for Fighting or Travel anyway (the latter presumably representing horse riding, given her native era).

That gives her more Story Points, which is in keeping with a lot of what she does on the show. The GM should also remember to give her plenty of them when she does obviously naive things like putting a cybermat in her handbag while the Doctor isn't looking...

Victoria's precise age isn't stated, although she's the most obviously 'teenage' of the early companions for the simple reason that she was the only one actually played by a real-life teenager (Deborah Watling was nineteen at the time). A reasonable guess might be that, like Susan, Vicki, and Dodo, she's supposed to be sixteen. The novelisation of Downtime gives her date of birth as 1842, which would make her just fourteen when she meets the Doctor, although to my mind, at least, that does seem rather young.

She is very clearly a product of a sheltered upbringing, and, at least initially, of her era. She is polite and proper, and quite prudish by modern standards. Having lived in mid-Victorian times, when crinolines were all the rage, she is terribly embarrassed in Tomb of the Cybermen when she discovers the 'practical' dress she is talked into wearing not only lets men see her ankles, but even her knees.

However, she is surprisingly adaptable, and seems to get used to 1960s clothing quite quickly. When, in The Ice Warriors, Jamie suggests that she should try on a mini-skirt, she gives him a dirty look and primly changes the subject. Yet, in the very next story, she turns up wearing her shortest skirt yet - and a tartan one, at that! (Jamie, typically, still doesn't get the message...)

It's also fair to say that Victoria really liked exercising her lungs. She probably screams more frequently - and louder - than any other companion in the show's history. Which is quite an achievement, considering the competition. Yet she's not really a coward, and is stubborn at times, if not exactly adventurous. She doesn't like to be left alone, which leads to her heading off with the others into danger even when it's not the wisest course of action. It's also a fair comment that a lot of the trouble she gets into is the result of her own naivety, rather than simple bad luck. (I refer you back to the cybermat in the handbag).

Victoria is one of the few companions to have the Unadventurous trait from the start, and she eventually decides to leave the Doctor for the safety of living with a foster family in an unspecified 'near future' setting - over a hundred years after her own time. If we assume that The Two Doctors really is set during Season 6B (see my post on Jamie) then it's worth noting that she's mentioned as still travelling in the TARDIS at that time, as well.

Which means she would have to have rejoined it at some point, although frankly, its hard to think of any reason why this would make sense. Perhaps the Time Lords, for whatever reason, have implanted a false memory of her presence in Jamie's mind, and the Doctor is going along with it - after all, we don't actually see her.

If, on the other hand, we make the more reasonable assumption that she doesn't rejoin the Doctor, then, like most companions, there is nothing else in the series proper to indicate what happens to her. But, as it turns out, we do have another source, if we want it.

That's because, unusually, she appears again, not just in novels and audio plays, but in the 1995 straight-to-video production Downtime. Not legally allowed to use the Doctor himself, the producers of the video were nonetheless able to make a full-length story featuring Victoria alongside Sarah Jane and the Brigadier - all played by the original actors.

According to this, by the mid '90s, Victoria is the Vice Chancellor of a rather weird New Age University, as a result of manipulations by the Great Intelligence. In the course of the story, the Intelligence's plan to take over the world using the internet is foiled (although it tries again in The Bells of Saint John), and Victoria is once again left on her own.

Assuming that the 'near future' setting of Fury from the Deep (when she leaves the TARDIS) is the mid 1970s, then by 2013 she would be a bit over fifty years old physically, and 160+ chronologically. Even Downtime, however, leaves a gap in her history during the late '70s to early '80s, when she would still be in her twenties. She'd need to have overcome her Unadventurous trait to willingly join a group of PCs, but even if not, she might make a useful information source on the Yeti, Ice Warriors, and Cybermen, and might at least be willing to help out for a short while.

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