Monday, 5 January 2015

DWAITAS: 7th Doctor Sourcebook

And so, with this sourcebook, we reach the end of the classic era of Doctor Who. The broad fan consensus on this era is that, at least in its last two seasons, it marked a significant improvement over the era that preceded it. While, for some, that might be merely damning with faint praise, there are many who regard it as a true return to form, albeit one that came far too late to stave off the threat of cancellation. Because, frankly, by this point, most of the audience had already left.

But with a sourcebook like this, published so long after the fact, that's no longer an issue. A more significant problem, perhaps, is one that this volume shares with the Sixth Doctor Sourcebook, and, looking ahead, with that for the Ninth: the Seventh Doctor only has twelve stories, just one more than his immediate predecessor. Which makes it tougher to find enough to say to fill the book out.

And, yes, as we might expect, the entries on the individual stories are considerably longer than they were in volumes prior to #6 - about twice as long, on average, as those in the first three volumes. However, on the positive side, it also means that this book has room for quite a lot of discussion on the general themes of the era, and for the background to what's going on in these last dozen stories.

The book begins, as usual, with descriptions of the Doctor and his companions. Somewhat oddly, Sabalom Glitz is in this chapter alongside the genuine companions. It's true enough that he fills a somewhat companion-like role in his one adventure with the Seventh Doctor, but, still, it is only one, and he was in two with the Sixth Doctor. Anyway, players should note that this is a proper PC version of the character, not the NPC one from the previous book - a difference marked largely by a full set of Story Points, although there are some other improvements, too.

When it comes to the two official companions, it's interesting to note that Mel has lost a point of intelligence since the last book (having to actually live through Time and the Rani might do that to you, I guess). It's compensated for by a shed-load of extra Story Points, though, so that's a plus. Ace, on the other hand, is a rare example of a companion you can actually generate with the rules-as-written. More or less, anyway.

The discussion of the characters that goes along with these stats is in-depth, and really rather good. Obviously, there's a significant focus on the Doctor here, especially since his personality strongly shapes many of his best stories, such as Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. To reflect this, he gets the ability to affect events without spending the usual number of Story Points - although there's nothing to compensate for this that I can see, so it's arguable how good an idea that is.

This introductory chapter is followed by one focussing on rules, including new Traits, Gadgets, and Artefacts. (The latter are very powerful gadgets, like the Hand of Omega). As has become the case in recent sourcebooks, some of the new Traits are really just special cases of existing ones, although they could certainly prove useful for players who want more concrete descriptions of what they do.

The same chapter also has something we haven't seen in the last few books, which is a discussion of how new companions can be created that fit in with the era, and how other types of player party might work. The former is particularly relevant here, since, on TV at least, there is space for as many new companions as we want between the events of Survival and the 7th Doctor's regeneration. On the other hand, because Ace is the only televised example that we have of a companion that Seven actually chose to travel with, the suggestions do rather tend to be variations on her specifically.

Next up is something else we haven't seen in a while, namely a chapter on recurring enemies. This feels slightly odd, in that the 7th Doctor doesn't face anybody listed here more than once, so that they could just have well have been described in the entries for their respective stories. Nonetheless, it's here that we have a good in-depth look at the Daleks and Cybermen of the era (including, for example, the Special Weapons Dalek) and at the Master, the Rani, and Fenric. No, I don't know why Fenric is here, instead of in The  Curse of Fenric, either... some page-flipping will doubtless be required if you need to use him. (Similarly, Nemesis is in the Artefacts section, not, as you might expect, in the entry on Silver Nemesis).

Next up, we have quite a sizeable chapter on the themes of the era, and how to construct adventures that follow them. Some of this does feel like a repetition of the the bits in the first chapter about Seven's personality, although, in fairness, it's easy to see why. But there are also some great suggestions in here for how to run this type of adventure, and insight into how the show worked during Andrew Cartmel's time as script editor. Incidentally, one campaign suggestion in this chapter is, in fact, the basis of a spin-off audio series that has just been renewed for a fourth season. So it clearly works!

Altogether, these chapters are the most detailed general overview we've seen so far in the Sourcebook series. They are, of course, followed by the examination of the individual stories. The balance here is struck rather better than in either of the previous two volumes, with less tedious re-telling of the events of the stories. This means that, even with the first few chapters taking up a larger chunk of the page count, we aren't short-changed when it comes to the episodes, since there's still plenty of room for the proper gaming stuff.

There's plenty of advice here on how to run the specific adventures, and how to do others using the same tropes. The locations are well-described, and there's everything else that we've come to expect. One difference from the previous volume is that, whereas that stated up even the most minor of characters, this just gives brief capsule descriptions of the supporting cast, saving the stat blocks for the characters who really matter. Personally, I like this approach better (and it's more than there was space for in most of the earlier sourcebooks), although I suppose some might have preferred more detail.

The book wraps up with a brief account of the Seventh Doctor's regeneration, while saving the details for the next volume. Oddly, the line editor seems to have forgotten that we didn't see this in volume #6 either (and for the same reason) so the section reads as if Seven is the only Doctor we don't see regenerate in one of "his" stories.

Overall, despite a bit of padding here and there, this is a very good book, and one that copes well with having rather less stories to cover than its page count might justify. The material is thorough, and well thought out, effectively bring out the atmosphere of the era. Real thought has gone into making this a useful resource, and it's one of the better ones of the series.

In fact, this is as good a place as any to see how, in my personal, and entirely subjective, view, the sourcebooks covering the seven Doctors of the classic era stack up against one another. I've been fairly positive about most of them, but which do I like the most?

To my mind, the Second and Third sourcebooks are the best, providing a really good gamer's overview of their respective eras, and plenty of insight into how they worked. Seven isn't far behind them, although it does feel a bit padded in places, while the First provides some excellent advice, but clearly suffers from the lack of space available for its broad scope.

Slightly behind them comes Four, which also has too many stories to cover in depth, and (perhaps understandably) focuses more on the Hinchcliffe era than the two that followed it, and Six, which is also good, but has even more padding than Seven. Which leaves us with the Fifth volume, which is the only weak one so far, although by no means a complete flop.

Of course, the one that's really going to be the odd one out is volume Eight...

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Thanks for all of these reviews. I'm new to the game, but have appreciated reading your reviews the last three or four months.