Monday, 21 October 2013

DWAITAS: 3rd Doctor Sourcebook

With the third in the series of past Doctor sourcebooks, we reach an era that is, perhaps, one of the most distinctive, quite different in many ways from those that preceded and followed it. It's also, and for much the same reason, rather controversial. For many fans, especially those who were watching in the early '70s, the Third Doctor is their favourite, yet, for many others, the nature of the stories in this era is just too different to really enjoy in the same way as those that came later.

From the point of view of a sourcebook, this is actually something of an advantage. Because the era is unique, there's quite a lot to say about it. It may also help that much of what makes the Third Doctor's tenure different also makes it closer to traditional roleplaying games. It's perhaps easier, for instance, to see how Spearhead from Space could be made into a straightforward roleplaying adventure than more character-driven tales such as The Girl Who Waited.

The most obvious thing that stands out about the era is that over half of the stories are set primarily in the present day, perhaps with a brief excursion elsewhere for a couple of episodes. But there's more to it than that. The Doctor is, in most of these present day stories, backed up by UNIT, a military organisation, and - while he argues with them frequently - he is broadly content to work alongside them. It's hard to imagine the Doctor of Power of Three remaining on Earth for quite so long without going stir crazy.

This grounding of the Doctor in a real-world environment is most notable in solid action adventures like The Ambassadors of Death and The Mind of Evil, but, as this sourcebook points out, there are also strong parallels with '70s politics in futuristic stories such as The Curse of Peladon and The Mutants.

The fourth chapter of the book is the one that covers this sort of ground most thoroughly, explaining how adventures tend to work in this era of the show's history, and how to construct your own with a similar flavour. There is discussion, for example, of how many of the alien races are misunderstood, and how, for all that he works with the military, the Doctor doesn't approve of its methods.  There is also discussion of fights, daring escapes, and all the other sorts of action that make this era so suitable for gaming in a relatively traditional mould.

Prior to that, though, we have chapters covering the main characters, the gadgets, and the recurring villains. All of this is in essentially the same format as The Second Doctor Sourcebook, presumably relying on that fact that they have about the same number of stories to allow a similar amount of space for general discussion. (This is unlike the First Doctor's sourcebook, whose introductory chapters were somewhat constrained by the larger number of stories it had to cover).

The stats for the companions and UNIT regulars are essentially the same as those in the UNIT sourcebook, with some minor tweaks to allow for new Traits introduced in this book. It's interesting to note that, once again, most of the characters on the show are higher powered than player characters would be, using the rules-as-written. For a system that downplays character experience (having rather vague rules on the subject) it's odd that you can't start off with PCs similar to the main characters of the show. Unless you want to play somebody like Jo, whose character sheet is pretty much exactly that of a starting PC.

Jo as the sort of character the system expects you to play? Hmm.

Still, that's by-the-by, since the character sheets do seem plausible enough for what we see on screen. On the subject of rules, though, that's the topic of the second chapter. There's discussion here, as in the previous volume, of what sort of original PCs would suit the era, along with new Traits (some of them also in the UNIT sourcebook, some brand new), and stats for things like the latest incarnation of the sonic screwdriver.

It also makes an important point about the era, which is that vehicles are more important here than at any other time. Vehicles normally are just a bit of flavour in Doctor Who, but the Pertwee era featured them a lot, often with dramatic chases. In addition to sensible advice about randomly throwing helicopters, dune buggies, water skis, or whatever the heck else you can think of into your adventures (and blowing some of them up, if possible), there are also stats for Bessie and the Whomobile. Oh, and for jeeps. Because somebody's going to end up using one.

Chapter three deals with those villains that show up in more than one story. There's the Daleks, of course, although (as you'd expect) they haven't changed from the Second Doctor's era. There's also, again unsurprisingly, quite a bit on the Master. Rounding out the chapter are the original versions of the Silurians, together with Sea Devils, Autons, and Ogrons. The Ice Warriors are, however, oddly missing, and they don't show up in the sections on the two stories that feature them, either. You'll just have to use the Second Doctor sourcebook if you want them... or maybe wait for the Eleventh.

The bulk of the book, of course, is once again taken up by a discussion of each televised story. The format is familiar now, with a synopsis, discussion of the story as an RP adventure, new gadgets and character/monster stats, and suggestions for further adventures. Some of the advice on how to run adventures doesn't quite suit my gaming style, but that's not a detraction, since it's clearly just suggestions, and is doubtless useful to someone.

As always, the stats do include some for characters who die in the story, making their re-use problematic. (Unless, of course, one wants to run the televised story as-is, which is probably the idea). There are some omissions, though. I've already mentioned the Ice Warriors, and another example from The Curse of Peladon is Arcturus - yes, he dies, too, but he belongs to a race that could turn up elsewhere. I also find it odd that the wizened midget priests from Colony in Space have the same high Strength and low Ingenuity scores as their warrior caste. Not the impression I'd got of them, I have to say.

We are, of course, in the colour era now, and the book moves away from its two predecessors in having a colour interior. But not entirely full colour - there are a surprising number of black-and-white pictures in among the others. In the case of the section on The Mind of Evil, I suspect that's due to the lack of any high quality alternative; although a colourised version is now available on DVD, the version in the BBC archives is black and white, and that's probably where the large, quality, pictures come from. Some of the other choices are less easy to explain, however.

There's also the ongoing oddity of dividing the main section into chapters of three stories each, regardless of where things like season boundaries happen to occur. Which, given the distinct flavour of the individual seasons in this era, is particularly noticeable here. Each chapter, as before, has to be given a full page of splash art, but this time, it's the same image on each page. Did we really need the same full-page picture repeated twelve times through the book?

On the plus side, though, the PDF version has proper bookmarks again! This is really useful in a PDF, meaning that if I want to challenge my players with a rampaging mass of curried spaghetti or an overly aggressive duvet, I can turn straight to The Claws of Axos without the need for loads of scrolling.

All in all, despite some minor flaws, this is another quality sourcebook, with a good feel for the period it is evoking. It manages to bring out the unique flavour of the Pertwee seasons, without going over too much ground that's already been covered in the UNIT sourcebook. Whether you want to join UNIT in its battle against alien invaders and mad scientists, play out a parable about the fall of the British Empire (in space!), or just marvel at pictures of a giant green penis standing next to an Ice Warrior, this is the book for you.

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