Monday, 2 December 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Sgt Benton and Mike Yates

Around the end of the seventh season and the beginning of the eighth, two new players join our imaginary group, bringing it to the largest it well ever be: five players plus the GM. They're only occasional players, absent for many of the adventures, which the GM begins filling in with off-world science fiction, rather than the military-guarding-the-world that formed the basis of this new campaign. Nonetheless, both decide to play characters that mesh perfectly with the campaign concept, by designing members of UNIT.

The first, like the Brigadier's player, picks up a former NPC already associated with the campaign. Sergeant Benton first appeared (as a corporal) in The Invasion, back in the sixth season, and now returns as a semi-regular PC. As a sergeant, rather than an officer, he has the perfect opportunity to play the tough guy role previously filled by the likes of Ben and Steven. He doesn't really do much with the character beyond this, but it's a solid base.

Many of Benton's skills and abilities are obvious from his profession alone, and they don't really extend much further. His best skill is probably unarmed combat, but he's also good at climbing and athletics, driving, and using a range of weapons from rifles and grenades up to anti-tank weaponry. We can reasonably infer that he knows survival techniques, orienteering, and some basic first aid, and his tactical and leadership skills are often called into use when UNIT troops go up against rampaging jelly-monsters or errant gargoyles. Stealth, or at least shadowing people, is apparently not his forte, given how well it seems to work out on the occasions he tries it. The one surprise, perhaps, is that it turns out in The Daemons that he can also fly a helicopter.

There are lots of helicopters in the Pertwee era. Lots of them.

As to his personality, Benton is a fairly standard soldier, and you really don't need to know a lot more to play him. He's capable, tough under fire, not especially imaginative or comfortable with science, not easily fazed, and extremely loyal to his superiors. He's generally quite down to earth and seems to adapt well to the weirdness around him. Consider how, for example, while he's clearly impressed when he first steps inside the TARDIS, he specifically doesn't utter some form of the "larger on the inside" line, because "well, it's obvious, isn't it?"

While a number of companions' surnames are never revealed on screen, Benton is unique in that we never learn his first name. Were it not for the evidence of The Invasion, one might almost suppose it to be 'Sergeant'. The 1987 straight-to-video production Wartime, however, gives it as 'John', and that's been used in other spin-off media ever since.

Assuming he's the same age as his actor, and if we take the UNIT era as being roughly contemporary with its broadcast, Benton was born in 1941, during World War II. If we believe Wartime, his father died in that conflict, but was apparently a career soldier (rather than a draftee), suggesting a family with at least some military history. We don't know a lot about Benton's private life beyond that, although the fact that he goes to dancing lessons with his sister would suggest that he's single.

Benton is promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major around the time of the story Robot, which I'm taking to be set in 1974. RSM is actually three ranks higher than a regular sergeant, so quite how this would work is unclear, but there we are. After this, incidentally, he should be addressed as either 'RSM Benton' or 'Mr. Benton', since using the title 'sergeant' would imply a demotion.

Just a few years later, he retired from UNIT and the army, and becomes, of all things, a used car salesman. According to the spin-off novels, he gets married not long after this, fathers three children, and is still alive as of 2010.

Mike Yates, however, is envisaged as the Brigadier's second-in-command. As a captain, he might seem to have rather a low rank for this role (or else the Brigadier has a high one, depending how large UNIT is supposed to be), but it's been well established by this point, with a number of NPC captains having previously held the same position. Presumably, he joined UNIT as a lieutenant, and some spin-off stories set during the seventh season show him as such, implying that he's newly promoted when we first see him on screen.

Again, Mike's skill set can largely be determined from his chosen profession. We don't see him use guns, or indeed Leadership skill, quite so much as Benton, but it does happen, and he presumably has a full set of army officer skills. What we do see him doing, apart from being injured a lot, is driving, motorcycling, stealth and observation, and even a bit of escapology.

Using the same logic as for Benton, he was born around 1936, and must therefore have a number of memories of WWII, even if he wouldn't have joined the army until around the mid '50s. (Quite a slow rise to Captain, then...) Judging from his bearing, he's probably from a relatively well-off, upper middle class family.

Yates doesn't, to be honest, have much in the way of a personality. (In an obvious dig at this, the novel Verdigris has him literally transformed into a 2-dimensional cardboard cut-out at one point). He does at least act as if he fancies Jo, though there's not much sign of it being reciprocated, and it clearly doesn't go anywhere.

He does, however, become rather more interesting towards the end of his tenure. Shocked by the events of The Green Death, he secretly joins a radical eco-terrorist group. That's 'radical' as in 'plan to wipe out most of humanity, and cover the world with dinosaurs'. This plan does not work out quite as well as the terrorists had hoped, and Yates is asked to resign from UNIT. He heads to a Buddhist retreat to find himself, or whatever it is one does at such places, and that doesn't really work out great, either.

Both Yates and Benton are usable after this, at least until the late '80s or early '90s. They're outside UNIT, but surely still retain much of their skills and experience, even if they're getting a bit older. Likely, they still have contacts inside the UNIT of the day, although that may have faded by the 21st century.

Unlike Benton, there's no real indication as to what Mike is doing during this period of his life. According to the novel Happy Endings, though, his chance to re-evaluate his life following his dismissal does at least lead to him coming to terms with something that's not addressed on-screen at all. As of 2010, apparently, Mike Yates is in a long-term romantic relationship with another man.

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