Monday, 16 December 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Jo Grant

Liz Shaw leaves the show after the end of the seventh season. In game terms, her player has realised that there isn't much point in playing a scientist character when the Doctor is already so much better at it. Looking around, and seeing two new military types joining the campaign, along with the Brigadier already there, she sees that there is an empty niche. A 'rogue' type character doesn't directly work in the setting, but the skills such characters normally possess are certainly still useful, and nobody else has focussed on them.

Fitting in with the campaign premise, the player decides to generate a spy as her character. But - and here's the twist - she's going to play a crap one.

The result is wannabe secret agent and full-time ditz Jo Grant.

Jo has, we're told, undergone a course in spycraft and all its attendant skills. She does not, on the other hand, actually appear to have passed it. A great example of her approach to sneaky rogue-type activities can be seen in her very first story, Terror of the Autons, not just in her failure to spy on the Master, but in how she reacts once she's discovered. On the whole, while she's clearly a very nice person, she really doesn't seem cut out for... well, anything much.

Frankly, the only thing she seems to truly excel at is getting herself captured, mainly so that villains can threaten to kill her if the Doctor doesn't do what they say. In fact, on her first adventure as a solo companion, Colony in Space, she is kidnapped and held hostage no less than three times in the course of a story that only lasts a little over an hour and a half!

On the other hand, Jo is the first companion in Doctor Who's history to be used in what's now the staple format of the show: the Doctor plus a single female companion. Up until this point, there's always been at least one male companion. (On-screen at least; Dodo travels alone with the Doctor between The Savages and The War Machines, but there are no televised adventures during this period). So there must be something going for her.

So what, we might wonder, is she actually good at? One could certainly argue that she has people skills, getting strangers to open up and explain their plots to her, for instance. She probably does have a high Charisma, or similar stat, since pretty well everyone reacts positively to her when they meet her (or at least regards her as harmless). She also has the Attractive advantage, not just because of the obvious evidence of a young Katy Manning, but because a number of NPCs seem to fancy her, notably including the likes of King Peladon.

But, actually, there's more to her than that. Because she's also one of a minority of Doctor Who companions who obviously spends her experience points. Early on, she does have a few notable successes, but they're evidently due to judicious use of Story Points. Mind of Evil is an example of this, where its apparent that she's mostly just being lucky. She's also too nice a person to do anything that's too bad. We're told in that story, for instance, that she's had firearms training, but when she does pick up a gun she can't bring herself to do more than fire off a warning shot. (Well, either that, or she just misses - but the former does seem in character).

Yet, later on, she begins to get rather good. She has rare flashes of competence from around Day of the Daleks, but she really comes into her own in The Sea Devils. In that story, she does a lot of successful sneaking about, crawls through ventilation ducts (although the GM is evidently giving her a bonus for her petite frame), and even drives a large hovercraft. Better yet, she demonstrates what is surely the sine qua non of rogue-type skills, when she picks a lock.

In other stories, she's seen to have a particular talent for escapology, wriggling out of a range of handcuffs. She does, however, notably fail to escape from Atlantean manacles in The Time Monster, claiming they're the wrong sort... although, more likely, it was just a bad dice roll. By The Green Death, she's also learned first aid, and can repair a broken radio. One of her more surprising feats, though, is overpowering a couple of trained prison guards to make her escape in The Sea Devils. Granted, they may have been taken a bit by surprise, but it's still a far cry from her pathetic flailing about in Colony in Space.

In The Curse of Peladon, Jo proves so susceptible to mind control that the Doctor almost hypnotises her by mistake. Yet, in Frontier in Space, much later on, she becomes one of a relatively small number of people to resist the Master's hypnotic powers. We're explicitly told that that's something she's learned since Terror of the Autons, suggesting a plot arc of her actually becoming what she merely wishes she could be when we first meet her.

(Not, I hasten to add, that there's much evidence the writers were genuinely thinking of such an arc at the time; it's all too haphazard for that. But if you squint hard enough through an RPG lens, you can sort of see one).

Granted, a lot of the time she is pretty useless, and she's clearly the sort of lockpicker that rarely remembers to carry around anything remotely resembling a lockpick. But, in game, especially if we're playing her relatively late on in her time with the Doctor, we can brush some of that under the carpet, and have her be more effective than might appear the case at first glance. This is, for instance, the approach taken in the novel Genocide, set in the mid '90s, in which an older Jo is shown as being surprisingly collected.

In the TV series, though, what doesn't change much, or indeed, at all, is her personality. She consistently remains bright, cheery, and rather scatter-brained throughout her adventures, never losing her wide-eyed innocence. Like many companions of the era, she screams at monsters a lot, and she also panics a bit when she inadvertently takes her first trip in the TARDIS, demanding to be taken back home. By her second trip, she's keen to explore - although she changes her mind quickly enough when she realises it's cold and windy outside. It's not long before she's bored of alien worlds, and asking to be taken back home.

She claims at one point to be a feminist, but, if so, she's a rubbish role model for one. She can be strong on occasion, but only for brief moments. Note how, down the mine in The Green Death, she's pathetic and girly until she realises that her guide can't help her out - at which point she takes charge and bravely heads into the unknown. It's also worth noting that she offers her own life to save the Doctor's in The Daemons, suggesting a remarkable degree of loyalty, and that she can be brave under the right circumstances.

We don't know a lot about her background. Using my standard assumptions that she's about the same age as her actress, and that the UNIT stories were broadly contemporary with their broadcast, she was born some time around 1950, going through her teenage years in the swinging '60s. She got her job at UNIT through her uncle's connections with the United Nations, where the Brigadier decides that her talents and skills are best suited to her handing the Doctor cups of tea.

Her fashion sense, while hardly impressive to the modern eye, is perfectly fine for the early '70s. While she does often wear trousers, for instance, when she does wear skirts instead they're usually so ridiculously short that the colour of her underwear rarely remains in doubt for long. In all probability, she's really into the music and styles of the time, and she's not really all that keen on staying away from present-day Earth for long. She's also a bit of a late-period hippy, and strongly interested in ecological issues.

Indeed, she eventually leaves the Doctor when she falls madly in love with a long-haired conservationist and goes for a honeymoon up the Amazon saving endangered mushrooms, or something of the sort. According to Genocide, that marriage doesn't last, but the TV series presents a very different picture.

The Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor states that Jo and Clifford Jones are not only still happily married as of 2010, but have a total of seven children. She has apparently spent much of the 35 plus years since leaving the Doctor engaged in a life of political activism, suggesting that she's still as emotional and idealistic at the age of 60 as she was in her mid 20s. This period in her life, especially from the late 1970s to the mid '80s, is likely a ripe one for further adventure.

At least during the rare bits of it when she isn't pregnant.

No comments: