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.

The second potential advantage might not be so apparent at first sight. There is a theory in RPGs that if you're going to adapt a TV episode or a film into a game scenario, you're far better off with one that's rubbish than with one that's good. The two media are quite different, and the things that make a given TV episode great often just don't translate across. City of Death, for example, is so good because of the sparkling dialogue, Robots of Death benefits from great design, The Doctor's Wife because of the way the character interactions are played... but these are not things that will automatically carry across to a scenario based on them.

Whereas something like Vengeance on Varos, with it's obstacle-course game show, might actually work quite well when the faults of the era don't have to come across with it. There are limits to this, and The Twin Dilemma, for example, is unlikely to be salvageable by any method. And there are exceptions, the other way too; as one instance, I could imagine that Carnival of Monsters, from the Pertwee years, could be as effective a scenario as it is an episode. But, at the very least, it does mean that things aren't quite so automatically doomed as one might suppose.

So let's turn to see what it is that we're actually getting in this book. It starts with a pretty good summation of the Doctor and his era. Obviously, being licensed and vetted by the BBC, the book couldn't come out and say "these stories are mostly rubbish" even if it wanted to (which it presumably wouldn't), so the job here is to try and put a positive spin on things. Which it by and large succeeds at. Three story seeds are included, and they're far more detailed than those in the earlier volumes, occupying about half a page each, rather than just a paragraph or two.

Stats for the Doctor, Peri, Mel, and the TARDIS follow, as in previous books. Peri's stats are notably higher than they were in the Fifth Doctor Sourcebook, which possibly reflects experience, although, for some reason, her Convince skill has actually got lower. I have to say that I think the previous volume reflects the on-screen character rather better, but more on that when I return to "Companions as PCs". There are also a whole bunch of new Traits and new rules, although it's arguable how useful many of these are, and whether or not they're just particular examples of things that the existing rules can already do.

And so we move on to the analysis of the stories themselves. Here the greater ratio of page count to stories really reaps benefits. We do, as in the Fifth Doctor's volume, get lengthy and tedious recountings of the events of the televised stories. These things honestly aren't really possible to do well; you can't condense a 100-minute story into a couple of pages and make it sound good. You either need a briefer summary, as the earlier volumes did, or, better yet, write an entire novel... which is hardly an option here.

But, this time round it doesn't matter, because the book has space both for this and for the actual gaming content. And the gaming content here also benefits from being particularly good. The suggestions on how to run the episodes as stories (should you actually wish to do so), is rather better than in certain of the other volumes. More significantly, perhaps, there are good discussions on the various alien races, and stats for just about every character in the stories. One might argue that, if anything, this goes a little too far, with some really very minor characters getting written up. But at least it's hard to think what they could have possibly missed out and it's better to be thorough than to, say, forget to stat up or describe one of the main monsters in a story.

(I do, however, have to point out one minor glitch I spotted in the stats. We're told in the Revelation of the Daleks entry that the daleks in that story "still lack the ability to fly or hover." In fact, one of them does exactly that in the firefight at the end of the story - although a lot more is made of this in the Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks a few seasons later).

In fact, there are even extra rules in here, for example, a "Failed Cyber Conversion" trait in the section on Attack of the Cybermen, and write-ups of various vehicles that appear, along with other gadgets. Plus, of course, descriptions of planets and settings, and how else they could be used in games. The "Further Adventures" that we've seen throughout the Sourcebook series are particular good here, with some really great ideas for games branching off from what we see on screen.

The Trial of a Time Lord comes in for special treatment. Each of its component parts gets a full entry, focussing on the story that we watch the Doctor watching. If you see what I mean. But the overall story arc - the bits in the courtroom - also get their own full entry. It's here, for instance, that we have stats and descriptions for the Inquisitor and the Valeyard, and there's an entire proposed campaign based around some of the ideas, with brief descriptions of the individual scenarios that might make it up.

The book concludes with an appendix, which fits all of the Sixth Doctor's adventures into the context of the Time War - a concept that, of course, didn't actually exist in the show until the new series. Each story is examined as if it were actually an early salvo in that conflict, and a one-paragraph adventure seed is provided for each based on that concept. It's an original idea, and yet another example of just how many adventure seeds this book manages to fit in.

In summary, the book does suffer from some of the problems I expected it might, due to fitting too few stories into too many pages. There is a sense of padding here and there, of trying to fit in anything just to fill the book up. But, on the whole, the space is being used to give us ideas to use in our games. It feels, more than it's immediate predecessor, at any rate, as if it's actually written for gamers. Perhaps there's a little too much detail in places, but that's easily enough ignored, and, crucially, there's not anything missing, so who cares?

I'm still no fan of the Sixth Doctor's television adventures, and I never will be. But I did like this book quite a bit more than I thought I would, and I have to say well done to the author for that.


Brandon said...

Also my least favorite Doctor, but the Time War stuff in this book is fascinating. Still not sure if I'll ever revisit the sixth Doctor via this RPG, but it's a good sourcebook!

Garwalf said...

This book was my first purchase for DWAITAS--more specifically, as a gift for my wife. She is no RPG'er, but said she might give DWAITAS a shot if she could play the 6th or 12th Doctor. She has always been a fan of the 6th Doctor (while acknowledging the MANY flaws of the actual shows that were aired).

First and foremost, I agree that having an RPG supplement makes it possible to enjoy the character while eliminating many of the problems of the actual show. In a tabletop RPG, you can't spot laughably bad BBC special effects!

One thing that I liked about this supplement was that there were so many areas where the authors laid out *possibilities* or *interpretations* of how to explain characters, events, etc. in the shows rather than give final, definitive explanations. I guess this is another advantage of writing this as an RPG supplement.

I await the new edition of DWAITAS, so that my wife can choose between the 6th and 12 Doctors.