Monday, 22 December 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Peri Brown

Tegan leaves part way through the twenty-first season. Her player hasn't quite given up on the idea of playing a colonial, instead of yet another Brit, but evidently feels that her next character should do a lot more screaming and a lot less of anything useful, bringing back some of the flavour of the campaign's early days.

The result, on the basis of what someone has assured her is an entirely typical name in the US, is American college student Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown.

In the actual show, Peri's primary functions are to look pretty and scream at the monsters. Neither, it has to be said, is a really sound basis for a player character. Indeed, with the recent departure of Turlough, we're back once again to the "Doctor plus one female companion" model, which also doesn't fit wel with the metaphor of an RPG. It's a model that the show will stick with, more or less, from here on in, but for our purposes, we're going to brush that aside and try to look at Peri as she might fit into a more typical group.

This isn't easy, not least because if the writers had any clear concept of her personality traits beyond "she's American", they made a poor job of fleshing them out. Granted, this is more of a concept than they had with Dodo, but that's damning with faint praise.

To be honest, Peri isn't a very proactive character, and she's often getting lost (she certainly doesn't have Sense of Direction), getting captured, failing to run away from things, and so on. Presumably, she's gaining Story Points from this, retreading the 'Peril Monkey' role of '60s companions like Victoria. To make her more than that we have to, as we did with some of those characters, look at what she's supposed to be good at, rather than what skills she effectively demonstrates on screen.

Monday, 8 December 2014

DWAITAS 6th Doctor Sourcebook

Okay, it's confession time: the Sixth Doctor's era is my least favourite in all of Doctor Who.

Nor am I alone in this. While the Sixth Doctor does have his fans, they aren't terribly numerous. His run of stories are generally reckoned to be amongst the weakest in the show's history, rising to the level of mediocrity once or twice, but more often falling short of such a target. Indeed, while I am sure there are those who will disagree, I'd argue that they're the only two seasons in the entire run that haven't included even one story I could honestly call 'good'. For that matter, by popular acclaim, the single worst Doctor Who story ever broadcast is the Sixth Doctor's debut, The Twin Dilemma.

I am, of course, compelled by the Sacred and Unwritten Rules of Fandom, on pain of being banished to the Planet of the Ming-Mongs, or some such, to follow that up with "...but he's a lot better in the audios." That caveat is, it seems, as mandatory as it is true, but, sadly it's not relevant here. Since, of course, Cubicle 7's license doesn't extend beyond the TV series itself, and the best they can do is make oblique references to the spin-off material. (Which they do, for example, on p.22)

At any rate, I wasn't exactly bursting with excitement to read this particular instalment of the DWAITAS Sourcebooks. Yet, when you think about it, this book does have two advantages that it's predecessors didn't. Perhaps the more obvious of these is that the Sixth Doctor only has eleven televised stories. With Cubicle 7 insisting that every book in the series has to have at least 160 pages, you should at least have space for a pretty detailed discussion of every one of them. The downside of this, though, is that you're in danger of resorting to spurious padding to try and fill the page count up.

Monday, 24 November 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Vislor Turlough

A new player joins the group in the twentieth season, briefly bringing the number of players up to four again. His initial character concept is, in many respects, similar to that of Adric: a high-tech rogue from an alien planet. But this player is older, and the character more complex, and less annoying.

Turlough is the last in the line of alien companions, and also the last male companion of the classic era. When we first meet him, he is a sixth form student at an expensive boarding school somewhere in the south of England, and so is presumably about eighteen years old. He is desperate to escape from Earth, but, while he admits to the other players that his character is alien, Turlough's player gives out no information at all about his background, or how he got to Earth in the first place. It's entirely possible that he's left this blank, with the intention of filling in a backstory later; it would explain why he sometimes mentions his homeworld, but never actually says what it's called.

Then again, it's possible that he's just being cagey. The "rogue" aspect of the character is only partly built on the obvious skills of lockpicking, devising traps, and so on, and is far more based in deception and similarly subtle methods. Turlough seems to be a master of Fast Talk, Bluff, or whatever else your system might call it. Right from his first story, we see him getting another student into trouble to divert attention from himself, and successfully tricking the headmaster into falling for the ruse. There are other instances in later stories where he uses the same skill again, albeit usually with less base motives.

Monday, 10 November 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Tegan Jovanka

Romana leaves towards the end of the eighteenth season. After so long playing her, albeit in two different forms, her player wants to try something different. Her last character was an intellectual aristocrat from a sophisticated and highly advanced civilisation, so the player comes up with the exact opposite of that.

She's going to play an Australian.

Joking aside, though, what is the character concept for Tegan Jovanka? When we look back through the previous companions on the series, most of them have actually turned out to be fairly identifiable character concepts that would fit in this sort of RPG. They haven't always been executed well, but the concept itself has usually been clear and perfectly viable. We have had a heroic space pilot, a number of soldiers and scientists, a secret agent, an investigative journalist, a barbarian warrior, and so on. With Tegan Jovanka, we have an air hostess.

Monday, 27 October 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Nyssa

Romana leaves towards the end of the eighteenth season. Her player is unable to attend the next session, but that's okay, because a new player is considering joining the group - bringing it back to its original size of GM plus four players. But the new player isn't quite sure she wants to become an ongoing member of the group, so she offers to play a one-off character for the next adventure, and see how it goes.

Probably she's heard of Romana (perhaps she's a friend of that player), and knows that she's left, so she sees an available niche, and designs a character that fills much the same function. Which brings us to Nyssa of Traken, who does, of course, become a regular PC from Logopolis onwards.

Nyssa, like Romana, comes from a technologically advanced culture. Quite how advanced is hard to say, because Doctor Who doesn't, if we're honest, have a terribly consistent view of what RPGs call "tech levels". With a few exceptions here and there, there doesn't appear to be functionally much difference between any of the futuristic societies we see. They may emphasise different bits, sure, but so long as they've got starships, ray guns, and any specific gadgets needed to drive the plot (the miniscope from Carnival of Monsters, say) they mostly look pretty much the same. Even the Time Lords don't seem that different, apart from the fact they have time machines.

Monday, 13 October 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Adric

The campaign has, for some time now, had only two player characters: the Doctor and a single female companion. Which isn't really enough for an RPG. So, when, part way through the eighteenth season, the annoying kid brother of one of the other players demands to be allowed to join in... well, what are you going to do?

The new player, of course, creates alien boy genius Adric.

Now, we just have to face reality here. You're never going to get a group as large and diverse as Doctor Who fandom to agree on anything as controversial as the identity of the "worst companion ever"... but, the fact remains, if you look at just about any list ranking companions by popularity, Adric is going to be somewhere in the bottom three. He might not always come last, but he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a popular character.

But let's take a step back from that for a minute, and just consider his character sheet. What, exactly, is the point of Adric, and how would he fit in an RPG campaign? On paper, at least, the answer is surprisingly well.

Monday, 6 October 2014

DWAITAS 5th Doctor Sourcebook

You're never going to get the whole of Doctor Who fandom to agree on when, or, for that matter, even if, classic Doctor Who "jumped the shark" and was irretrievably no-longer-as-good-as-it-used-to-be. But there seem to be at least three popular suggestions. Perhaps it was The Invisible Enemy, shortly after Philip Hinchcliffe was ditched as showrunner (or 'producer', as it was then). Or maybe The Leisure Hive, after Hinchcliffe's replacement left. Or perhaps The Twin Dilemma, a few more seasons down the line.

There are, of course, other possibilities, but the thing to notice about the three I've listed is that two of them doom the whole of Peter Davison's run to post-shark-jumping oblivion. A lot of people just aren't very keen on '80s Doctor Who, and how it sometimes seemed to be just treading water, and looking a bit naff.

But then again...

A lot of fans first came to Doctor Who in the '80s, and, numerically, there were more of them starting in Davison's era than in the two that followed. For many fans of the right age, Davison is "their Doctor", and fondly remembered. Astonishingly, on the fanfic site A Teaspoon and an Open Mind, there are actually more stories featuring the Fifth Doctor than any other of the classic era - even supposed fan favourite Tom Baker. (And most of them aren't pervy, in case you're wondering if that's the reason). Furthermore, the Fifth Doctor story The Caves of Androzani is frequently voted the single most popular story of the entire classic run, even managing to beat the likes of Genesis of the Daleks and The City of Death.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Companions That Weren't: The '70s

Classic Doctor Who changed many times over the years of its run, but two particularly seismic shifts in its production stand out. The first, and most obvious to the casual viewer, was the move in 1970 from black-and-white to colour, which also involved many other major changes in the way the show was made. The second, which is perhaps easier to see with hindsight than it might have been at the time, was the arrival of John Nathan-Turner as producer (or, as we'd say now, "showrunner").

This involved a significant shift in the show's direction and style, with a lot of changes behind the scenes as well. For the purposes of this blog, though, what matters is that, coincidentally, it happened in 1980. And that means that there are three well-defined periods of the show's history, which just happen to line up with chronological decades. I previously looked at four characters from the '60s era of the show who never became companions in reality, but who perhaps could in our own RPG campaigns. Now it's time to do the same for the '70s.

We begin with Hal the Archer from the Pertwee story The Time Warrior. One reason he's a choice is that he came quite close to becoming a companion in real life. The producers dropped the idea before the role was even cast, so it never really got anywhere, but it's easy to see him in the same mould as Jamie, and he's certainly quite heroic in his one story.

Monday, 30 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Romana

Leela leaves at the end of the fifteenth season. The campaign has been a fairly odd one for some time now, with only two players for the last three seasons, and for some extended periods before that. Perhaps more significantly, there has been something of an imbalance between the two characters. Sarah Jane and Leela were certainly competent characters, but even they were clearly sidekicks to the Doctor, the character who has been there, in one form or another, for, well... fifteen seasons now.

So, perhaps inspired by an NPC in The Invasion of Time - the first time we'd ever seen an adult female member of the Doctor's species - the other player decides to create a character who can truly be the Doctor's equal. She creates the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, better known as Romana.

Romana is a recent graduate of the Time Lord Academy, and there's some indication that she is even more intelligent than the Doctor. Certainly, she passed the Academy's final exams with much higher marks than he did, although, to be fair, the Doctor may have been the sort of person who was too busy messing about to actually study. Be that as it may, Romana is, for obvious reasons, vastly less experienced than her co-traveller. This, as it turns out, affects both the skills on her character sheet and, more generally, her personality.

Monday, 16 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: K9

Early in the fifteenth season, a new player joins the group, and comes up with an unusual idea for a PC. Basically, he's going to...

No, wait, that's not right, let's try that again. Here's what actually happened in our imaginary RPG campaign:

Ever since Harry's player left, the group has been down to just two players plus the GM. It's been there before, of course, but with the UNIT players away for good, there's no sign of it changing on the horizon. The GM is finding this a bit limiting, with the players often needing a bit of back-up to get things done. So, when they take a shine to a robot character he's just introduced, he decides to make the tin dog into a "Party NPC": a GM-controlled character that nonetheless travels with, and helps out the PCs on their adventures.

Yes, I'm arguing that K9 is actually an NPC. But the title of this little series is "Companions as PCs", and K9 is usually regarded as a companion, so what on Earth am I up to?

Monday, 2 June 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Leela

Sarah Jane leaves part way through the fourteenth season after what is (at the time) the longest run of any companion on the series. Her player is ready for something new, and comes up with a concept that's quite different from anything seen so far: her new character is going to be a Victorian street urchin.


Bear with me.

As it turns out, the GM is already planning a scenario set in set in Victorian London, so this will be perfect. He'll be able to work the character in seamlessly, and have her back-story relevant to the plot. There's only one problem: he hasn't got very far with planning the scenario yet, which he wants to make really authentic. The Doctor's player has badgered him into running a solo game while the other is away on holiday, but, even so, the GM has two more scenarios more or less ready to go before he feels ready to run the Victorian spectacular.

So he's got a suggestion: why not run a temporary PC for those two sessions? That way the arrival of the 'real' PC can be something of a surprise to the Doctor's player, and it will enhance the plot even more. He can even work in a short story arc for the temporary PC to his existing plots, and everything will be great.

Monday, 19 May 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Harry Sullivan

Mike Yates leaves the show at the end of the eleventh season. His player, however, who has only been able to attend occasional sessions of late, finds that he will be able to game on a more regular basis from now on. The Doctor's player is pondering a change, too, and briefly considers a physically weaker, more intellectual persona for his next regeneration - something, in fact, not unlike his original character concept.

So Yates' player decides that the party needs another action hero, similar to Ben or Steven way back in the third and fourth seasons. Although the GM has largely given up on "defending the Earth from aliens" adventures by this point, he has a few UNIT stories planned for when the players of the Brigadier and Benton are able to make it. So, since he'll be an action hero, it makes sense for the new PC to come from UNIT, too. Having just played Yates, though, the player is keen for something a little bit different this time.

And so he creates Harry Sullivan. Although he's a military member of UNIT, he's a doctor, not a soldier - the British branch's Medical Officer, in fact. He's also one of only two UNIT military staff members that we see in the classic series who aren't from the British Army (the other is Corporal Bell). Instead, Harry is a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Medical Service.

Monday, 5 May 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Sarah Jane Smith

Jo Grant leaves the show at the end of the tenth season. (Actually, it's worth reflecting on that statement for a moment; not many genre shows even have a tenth season, and even fewer have so many of their most popular episodes still ahead of them at that point...) Her player has come to the end of what passed for a story arc, and comes up with an idea for a new character.

One of the other players had briefly considered the idea of acquiring an NPC Contact - a mysterious journalist named 'Smith' who would have inside info on weird goings on for the players to investigate. With the campaign definitively moving back to outer space adventure, the idea is shelved as not worth the experience points, but it's given Jo's former player an idea. And so she creates investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith.

In the real world, Sarah is consistently voted the most popular classic series companion. Likely for that very reason, she remains the only classic companion to appear in Nu Who so far, and also appeared in not one, but two, spin-off TV series... even if one of them deservedly sank without trace after the pilot episode. That aside, she clearly had a long and illustrious career, and often as the central character in her own right.

Monday, 21 April 2014

DWAITAS: 4th Doctor Sourcebook

The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook was always going to be the most challenging for Cubicle 7 to pull off, at least among the first seven of the series. There are a number of reasons for this, starting with the simple observation that there are far more televised stories for this era than for any other. Each of the first three books spent an average of about four and a half pages per story, filling out the remainder of the 160 pages available with a broader overview and rules.

The 4th Doctor has 41 televised stories: you can immediately see why the arithmetic there is going to pose a problem.

Many multi-volume guidebooks of Doctor Who history have addressed this issue by splitting the era between two volumes. Cubicle 7, however, have taken the approach of just giving us more. This volume is a full 256 pages, over half again the length of the others. It's also noticeably jam-packed with content to an even greater extent than in the three we've already seen. 

However, sheer length alone is not the only problem with bringing the 4th Doctor era to life. The audience is likely to be demanding, since this era is widely acknowledged as the best and most popular of the entire classic run. In polls to determine people's "favourite Doctor", only the 10th regularly offers up any challenge (and which of the two comes out on top largely depends on the demographics of your poll respondents). Looking specifically at the classic era, polls of "favourite DW stories" are dominated by Tom Baker, with over half of the entries in any top ten typically coming from this period.