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.

Granted, flight attendants do a lot more than serving drinks. They need to have a thorough understanding of all the safety systems on a plane, for example, but that can't really be extended to many of the situations you'll encounter in an RPG. Rather more usefully, they do know First Aid, and, while we don't actually see Tegan using that skill, it's one she logically must possess. In Castrovalva, the Doctor says that he believes Tegan has good organisational skills, which also makes some sense, even if the only hint we ever get that he's right is her doing the "please embark now" bit in Time-Flight, which can't be that hard.

So, First Aid, and the ability to tell if the fire alarm in the aeroplane toilets is working properly. Pretty useful if you are, in fact, on an plane over the Pacific, but only one of those has much applicability to travelling through time and space fighting off hostile aliens. There are some other skills we can see her demonstrate, however. She can drive, for instance, and has a reasonable amount of mechanical knowledge - she at least thinks she can repair the car in Logopolis (even if she fails the roll), and she seems pretty useful fiddling about with the plane's undercarriage in Time-Flight. At one point, she also demonstrates quite a talent for art, coming up with a rather good sketch of 1980s costumes in Four to Doomsday.

In that same story, she can also understand and speak a 4,000 year old Australian aboriginal dialect. (And, no, it isn't the TARDIS translator circuits, because nobody else has a clue what he's saying, including the Doctor). But, then I guess that all Australians must be taught that sort of thing from an early age.

At any rate, within the show itself, Tegan can best be described as "the ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances". It's not quite the first time we've seen this, because Victoria could reasonably be described as fitting that role back in the fifth season. And it most certainly isn't the last, because it's pretty much the default model for the new series - Rose, Donna, Amy, and Clara are all clear examples.

Tegan's ordinariness is played up in many of her earlier stories, in which the technobabble conversations between the Doctor and Nyssa explicitly sail right over her head. Which makes her look a bit stupid, whereas really it's just that she doesn't have much grounding in far future scientific theory. Realistically, most of us would be lost under those circumstances.

She certainly has a strong personality, and an argumentative streak that sometimes seems to exasperate the Doctor. One could translate this into a high Willpower stat (or Resolve, or whatever your system calls it), although, if so, she must suffer some lousy rolls every now and then, since she does get mind-controlled quite a lot. So perhaps simply giving her a trait like Stubborn is more appropriate; it's hard to think of a Doctor Who companion who more obviously has that.

On the other hand, she does tend to bravely walk into danger, and doesn't scream half as much as some of her counterparts do. In Earthshock, for instance, she picks up an assault-rifle sized blaster gun and goes hunting Cybermen with it. The plan fails miserably, save for the one opportunity she gets to shoot a motionless target at point-blank range, but at least it's a PC-ish sort of thing to do.

As for her other combat skills, these may be better than you'd think. Certainly, in a simulationist system, it's hard to justify anything - she's no martial artist or hardened street brawler. But if you actually look at her success rate, it's not bad. For one, she knocks Adric out cold in Four to Doomsday (and who wouldn't want to do that?) but more importantly, she does get away from people a number of times. Yes, it's mainly by flailing about and pushing them over, and so on, but in a narrativist system, that's still a success. On the other hand, it may just be that she has a lot of Story Points to save up for this sort of thing.

Plus, she throws a dagger at the Master in The King's Demons.  Yes, he spends a Story Point to catch it in mid-air, but it was obviously on target before that happened. Compare this, incidentally, with her statement in Terminus that she doesn't think she could kill anyone... unless they were threatening her friends, which is exactly what the Master is doing in that scene.

The series fills in her background rather more than it does for many other companions of the era. We know that she was born around 1960 and that she grew up on a sheep farm near Brisbane. (She likes to claim it's in "the Outback", but it clearly isn't). She has an aunt named Vanessa, who lives in London until she's horribly murdered in Logopolis, and also a cousin, who we see backpacking around Europe in Arc of Infinity, and who doesn't get murdered. Her maternal grandfather also lives in England, and turns up in The Awakening, while the spin-off novels inform us that her other grandfather was a Serbian immigrant to Australia, which explains the surname. It seems likely that her father is dead by the time we first see her in 1981, but the same may not be true of her mother.

She's therefore in her early twenties when we first meet her, and, since she's just got her qualifications as a flight attendant, we can surmise that she's interested in seeing more of the world. She's employed by "Australian Airlines", which is presumably the BBC's trademark-free way of saying Qantas, and spends quite a lot of time trying to get back to that job after accidentally stumbling into the TARDIS. By the time she actually does get back to present-day Heathrow, however, she's changed her mind, apparently realising that you get to see more of the universe with the Doctor than you're likely to working on a commercial airline (where the "exotic locations" are, I suspect, mostly different airports). Unfortunately, she's then left behind by the Doctor, and is promptly sacked by her employers.

The fact that, prior to this, the Doctor keeps promising that, this time, he really is about to land at Heathrow, does at least explain why she spends her first few stories still dressed in her stewardess's uniform. Quite why she's still wearing it once she's changed her mind about staying is harder to explain, especially since it's evident from both Black Orchid and Enlightenment that she does quite like dressing up. It's even more surprising that, after fortuitously re-joining the Doctor in Arc of Infinity, she continues to wear the same, somewhat impractical, white top and shorts for what seems to be quite a long time from her perspective. She eventually raids the TARDIS wardrobe some time before The King's Demons, and from then on she reveals a preference for brightly coloured, and thoroughly 1980s, blouses, and (sometimes) short leather skirts.

Going by broadcast date, rather than by number of stories or episodes, to this day, Tegan remains the longest continuously serving companion in the show's history. During this time, she gets mind-controlled on three separate occasions, is repeatedly captured and held hostage, spends three whole episodes trying to get out of a ventilation duct, wears a tiara with a remotely triggered bomb in it, and is shot at or generally menaced more times than one can easily count. It's a wonder that she put up with it as long as she did.

Eventually, though, she does decide that she's had enough, and stays behind on present-day Earth. Aside from flash-backs, the only on-screen mention we have of her after that is in a 2010 episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, by which time she's apparently back home, campaigning for Aboriginal rights. Its hard to imagine her agreeing to travel with some other bunch of player characters during the interim, but perfectly plausible that she'd get involved in one-off adventures, given her determination and strong sense of justice.

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