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.

Having said that, Turlough also seems to be pretty good at Stealth, avoiding the soldiers in The Awakening for quite some time before eventually being captured, for example. His only other physical skills of significance appear to be driving and swimming; his attempt at the former ends badly, but he's good enough at the latter to do lifesaving.

When it comes to more INT based skills, however, not only is his native society high tech, but he seems to have a good grasp of its science and technology, and to be able to extend that to bypassing electronic locks and the like devised by other futuristic cultures, as we see in stories like Terminus, and Warriors of the Deep. Similarly, in Mawdryn Undead he shows an understanding of both the science and technology behind transmat beams, and he seems to have some limited ability to operate the TARDIS.

Even so, its likely that he's spent more points on the skills of deception than he has on technology. This makes the character somewhat mysterious - we're specifically told that he's good at resisting abilities like Sense Motive or Detect Lies - and it's therefore consistent that the mystery about his past is simply part of that.

Of course, he does eventually come clean - in his final story, Planet of Fire. Here he reveals that he is a Trion from the planet Trion. (Clearly a race with a certain simplicity of language, then). It turns out that he was exiled to Earth because his family was on the losing side in a civil war, which probably explains his initial reluctance to go back there, even if he isn't keen on the 'primitive' culture of 1980s Earth.

We really know very little about the Trions, other than that they are an interstellar culture, and, since they presumably lack time travel, that they must be contemporaneous with modern Earth. The 1995 novel Lords of the Storm tells us that they have a caste-based culture, with Turlough belonging to the wealthy elite (at least, until his exile), and this is somewhat expanded on in other spin-off media. As a species, they are clearly similar enough to humans to pass basic medical exams, and the only potential difference we see is Turlough's sudden recovery of detailed "race memories" when he encounters the Tractators in Frontios. Conceivably, this ability could surface in other situations too, although it seems rather debilitating, and almost certainly worth a Story Point or two to activate.

Perhaps the most difficult part about playing him in continuity with the TV series is that he spends his first three stories attempting to kill the Doctor. In what is presumably a one-on-one session before the main game, he is captured by The Man With a Chicken on His Head - more formally known as "The Black Guardian" - and offered escape from the planet Earth in return for the Doctor's murder. TMWaCoHH tries to convince Turlough that this will be a good thing, because the Doctor is a very bad man, but rather gives the game away by shouting "In the name of all that is Evil!" at the earliest opportunity. By this point, though, he has managed to persuade Turlough that he will be horribly killed if he doesn't follow through on the agreement.

(P.S.: Yes, I know it's not actually a chicken.)

This brings up one of Turlough's key character traits, which is a rather strong sense of self-preservation. He's not necessarily a coward, as such, since there are instances of him acting bravely, most notably in Resurrection of the Daleks, but he's certainly not one to risk his neck without a very good reason. Even so, it's obvious from early on that he doesn't really want to murder the Doctor, and his attempts to do so are, on the whole, pretty feeble. Of course, devious type that he is, he's not going to go as far as actually telling anyone else what's going on, and continues to make half-hearted attempts over the course of the three stories in question.

One of the tactics that the show itself uses to spin this out without it all getting rather repetitive is to keep Turlough away from the Doctor. This is basically what happens for most of Terminus, and if the GM doesn't mind splitting the party, it does have its advantages, at least for a while. In the same story, Turlough's attempt to sabotage the TARDIS actually creates most of the subsequent plot, so the GM can, in the person of TMWaCoHH, nudge him in that direction.

Given that Turlough isn't really trying all that hard, it's probably also legitimate, when he does have a go, to let him spend Story Points to foil his own plans.

After he's freed from the mental influence of TMWaCoHH, he becomes a more typical companion, and this, obviously, is a rather better time to use him. Oddly, even once Tegan begins to develop what passed for fashion sense in the '80s, Turlough continues to wear his school uniform. Quite why, when he was so desperate to get away from Earth in general, and the school in particular, is a mystery that's never explained. Neither is why he insists on being known by his surname. Obviously, at a posh British boarding school, that's exactly how the teachers would refer to him, but why, once he's left, he doesn't even tell anyone what his first name is until his very last story is hard to fathom.

Secretive, or what?

Anyway, there is a theory in fandom that Turlough is supposed to be gay. It's not unreasonable, given that he is probably the most effeminate of all the male companions in the classic era - most of whom were action heroes. The fact that we first meet him at an all-boy's boarding school is plausibly code for something, and, in the context of the TV show, at least, it might explain why we're constantly reminded of that fact with the whole uniform-wearing thing. That the person who originally created the character was gay in real life isn't doing any harm to the theory, either.

On the other hand, it's not like there's any unambiguous evidence in the show, given that it was a family program being made in the 1980s. In fact, he's given an ex-girlfriend in one of the audio plays, so interpret it how you like.

Turlough leaves the Doctor and returns home when he discovers that his family is no longer in disgrace, and that there has been reconciliation between members of the former warring factions on Trion. Unsurprisingly, we don't see him again, but he's young enough that there is surely plenty more to his life after this, during which he could join up with some other group of PCs. Assuming, of course, that they can convince him it isn't going to be needlessly dangerous...

Turlough's final story, however, also sees the departure of another character often considered to be a companion: the shape-shifting robot Kamelion. Kamelion gives every impression of being an NPC in his first story, The King's Demons. While he joins the TARDIS crew at the end of that story, he isn't seen, or even mentioned, again until just before his death in Planet of Fire. In our series-as-game, it's possible that he's a concept created by a new player who bails on the game without ever turning up - the GM works him into the party, and then finds out, too late, that there wasn't any point.

As a result, it's hard to justify Kamelion as a PC, since he never really gets the chance to act as one. His ability to change into any humanoid form is surely a useful one, and he can presumably emulate a lot of skills to carry out his charade, as well as having a good Acting skill. Since he never leaves the TARDIS until he has to, he's likely unadventurous in the extreme. According to the 1994 novel The Crystal Bucephalus, this is on the entirely reasonable grounds that he is susceptible to being mentally controlled and becoming a tool of the bad guys. Certainly, something like Weak Willed is justified, or a vulnerability to telepathic control.

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