Monday, 12 August 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Zoe Heriot

As has become almost traditional for companions by this point, Victoria leaves in the penultimate story of a season - in her case, the fifth. Having concluded the story arc of Victoria's desire for a normal life eventually getting the better of her, her player comes up with a character that, in some ways, breaks the mould: Zoe Heriot.

Apart from the mumsy Barbara, all the female companions on the show so far have been, to a greater or lesser extent, Peril Monkeys, whose primary function is to be menaced by the monsters. It's true that this does happen to Zoe, too - for example, she spends a couple of episodes of The Invasion drugged and locked in a trunk while the bad guys use her to lure Jamie and the Doctor into a trap. But that's combined with the fact that she's a technical and scientific genius.

In a sense, we've been here before: both Susan and Vicki could be described in this way. But Vicki's skills only rarely saved the day, and Susan might as well not have had any, for all she used them after the first episode. Zoe, on the other hand, does so frequently, making her a competent scientific specialist - a Science Geek, whose player has maxed out on Intelligence and science skills. In DWAITAS, she has to take two levels of 'Experienced' to justify her skills, and, she's obviously had plenty of boosts over the course of her adventures, since she's over-powered even for that.

(In fairness, this is also true of Ben, while Jamie appears to be under-powered, and might justifiably get three extra story points to compensate).

By profession, Zoe is described as an astrophysicist and librarian, although the former is probably more relevant in game. She is undoubtedly very good at physics and mathematics, and probably has a broader scientific education beyond that - it's hard to be a good astrophysicist without having at least a reasonable grasp of chemistry, for instance. While maths might not seem an exciting player character skill, the GM finds plenty of opportunities that allow her to bring it into play. In The Mind Robber, for instance, she deduces the layout of the Minotaur's Labyrinth by realising that it's laid out in an arithmetical pattern.

More significantly, and impressively, in the final episode of The Invasion, she plots a precise trajectory for a missile so that it can take out multiple enemy spaceships in one shot, easily out-performing the ballistics computer. In a similar vein, earlier in the same story, she makes an automated receptionist explode by feeding it what is essentially a computer virus that she's devised on the spot.

Indeed, when, in The Krotons, she takes an intelligence test, she briefly out-performs the Doctor (until he stops over-thinking things). We're also told that she has a photographic memory, although this doesn't crop up in many stories, and she once gets briefly lost on a moonbase after supposedly having memorised the map.

Nor is she confined to theory. Judging from The Seeds of Death, she has a good understanding of rocket science, including being able to evaluate the status of the engines by a first-hand inspection. On the other hand, the fact that her player threw so many points at her technical skills is evidenced by her having little left for anything else. She is petite, and is barely strong enough to cope with a stiff thermostat control in one episode. Her social skills also, if we're honest, leave a bit to be desired.

In fact, about the only other thing her player seems to have spent any points on at all is Attractive, an advantage that's already becoming de rigueur for female companions. Leaving aside the fact that Wendy Padbury was stunningly cute, which is largely subjective, and doesn't always mean much on TV anyway, I present as evidence the fact that fashion photographer Isobel Watkins apparently mistakes her for a model when she first sees her. There's also the fact that the operators of the missile defence system in The Invasion do seem to be paying rather more attention to her than to their screens...

Where does all of this come from? Well, Zoe hails from the early twenty first century, although quite how early is, of course, open to debate. (She claims to have been born during it, though, so it can't be that early). Mankind has just begun to colonise the solar system, and Zoe lives and works on a large space station some considerable distance from the Earth. More important, though, is her background.

Zoe is apparently the product of a highly advanced teaching program, in which particularly bright youngsters are, by some unspecified method, elevated to even higher levels of genius, for eventual employment as what we might call living computers. The process has boosted Zoe's intelligence and mathematical skills, and may also be the source of her photographic memory, but only at the expense of stripping away some of her humanity. The academy at which this takes place, referred to only as 'The City', is evidently insular, providing the students with little contact with the outside world, and (presumably intentionally) avoiding any education about even recent historical events.

All of this explains Zoe's lousy social skills: when we first meet her, her training has made it difficult for her to trust anything other than pure logic, and she doesn't seem to have - or want - any life outside of her work. That the other, more normal, people on the station seem to slightly resent her presence doesn't help, and nor does the fact that she's quite insufferable when she gets something right. Doubtless she's been brought up to think herself superior to other humans, and it's a hard habit to break.

What makes her more than Doctor Who's version of Mr. Spock is that she recognises this, understanding that there's more to life than she's been able to appreciate. She is human, and, after stowing away on board the TARDIS specifically so that she can broaden her horizons, she does manage to break free of her old self, becoming a more rounded person, and less smug into the bargain. (A nice example of this comes, yet again, from The Invasion, in which she clearly has fun modelling, and then, afterwards, explicitly follows her intuition in going to the IE building, even though logic alone tells her there's no need).

When we first meet her, Zoe is wearing a uniform that looks not entirely un-Star Trek. Her first attempt at loosening up, in The Dominators, involves a fairly horrible dress, but after that we discover that her idea of casual clothing is either a tight-fitting sparkly catsuit, or extremely short mini-skirts, sometimes with a jacket made of what appears to be PVC.

You might think, incidentally, that being an astrophysicist and a person with some degree of authority on a space station, she'd have to be an adult. It's possible that this is the case, since her age is never specifically mentioned, but all the indications are that she's yet another teenage companion (although the last for a while, as it happens).  However, it's likely that she's a little older than her predecessors, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, rather than sixteen.

If all this doesn't make her the archetypal geek girl, one final point completes the picture: it turns out, in The Mind Robber, that Zoe is a comic book fan. 'Nuff said.

What about after she leaves the Doctor? Like Jamie, Zoe has her memory of her travels in the TARDIS wiped by the Time Lords. Presumably, all of that personal growth she underwent is eliminated at a single stroke, turning her back to the person she was before. At least, back in her own time, she's somewhere safer than where the Time Lords put Jamie, but it's just as much of an injustice.

Perhaps because she wasn't around for as long, there seems to have been less effort in the spin-off media to reverse Zoe's fate than there has Jamie's. In one audio story, she begins to have dreams of her time on the TARDIS, while in another, a traumatic experience causes her blocked memories to resurface intact, only to vanish again when the story ends.

There could be any number of reasons why this might not be the case in your campaign. As with Jamie, it's simply possible that the Time Lords don't understand the human mind as well as they think they do, and the conditioning fades over the years. Or perhaps they will come flooding back once she is presented with something concrete from her missing years, be it a Cyberman, a Martian helmet, or the TARDIS itself.

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