Monday, 9 February 2015

The Companions That Weren't: the '80s

The year 1980 saw a major change in the production of Doctor Who, as John Nathan-Turner took over as producer. Although this was the top job on the show, it's probably fair to say that the actual nature of the stories was more affected by his script editors than by he himself - the modern "showrunner" job description being shared between the two roles in those days. Nonetheless, 1980 was a break-point in the show's history that was more than simply a change in decade, and since the next truly major change came in December 1989, with the cancellation, "'80s Doctor Who" is very clearly a distinct thing.

So, having reached the last companion of the classic era, now it's time to look back over that decade, as I did with the '60s and '70s, and look at some characters from the show that weren't companions, but could be in our own RPGs. One of the rules I'm using here is that the character in question should have survived whatever story they appeared in, so that it's possible for some PC group to turn up and collect them afterwards. This, unfortunately, rules out the only decent candidate I could find from the Sixth Doctor's era, namely Orcini from Revelation of the Daleks. Indeed, three of my four main examples are going to turn out to be from the Seventh Doctor's run. (Which, probably not coincidentally, lines up nicely with Andrew Cartmel's run as script editor, rather than Eric Saward's).

The one exception is Todd, from the Fifth Doctor story Kinda. She is a scientist from Earth's future, but, as is often the case, quite how far in the future is never specified. It's implied that the story is set not long after Earth has begun to explore alien worlds, and so perhaps some time around the 28th century would make sense. But we don't know that for certain, and Todd only ever says that she's from "the homeworld", so, theoretically, that could itself be an Earth colony of who-knows-what-age. Todd herself is apparently in her late thirties or early forties, and so rather older than most actual companions, and her first name is never mentioned.

Her speciality seems to be biology, which makes sense, given that she is part of an expedition to assess a new planet for potential colonisation. While the expedition is run by the military, in which she is some sort of junior officer, she apparently has rather more compassion than her more obviously militaristic colleagues. (One of whom, admittedly, is stark raving bonkers). Certainly, by the end of the story, it doesn't look likely that she's going to be working much more with the military, or conducting any more experiments on what she initially believes (erroneously) to be lower life-forms.

With good science skills, experience of alien worlds, and, presumably, skills suitable to a space-faring society, yet willing to travel beyond the comforts of the home-world, she is a nice example of a futuristic character that fills a non-violent niche. She's probably fairly adaptable, likely wants to see the universe, and has had her mind broadened by sharing in the psychic visions of the Kinda, and so - while not really fitting the mould of TV companions - at least has potential as a PC.

Towards the end of the twenty-fourth season, the show's producers needed to introduce a replacement for Mel as companion, and decided that they needed someone who was a bit more of a tearaway. They originally intended to introduce this new companion in Delta and the Bannermen, and had the part all written up and ready to go, when scheduling changes meant that it was easier to introduce the replacement in the next story, Dragonfire. So Ace became the new companion instead. But it was a very close run thing, and it was always possible that they would have stuck with their original choice:  Rachel Defwydd.

Rachel is from the year 1959, and, for bonus points if your game is more based on the modern show, is Welsh. Her actress was nineteen at the time, so that's as good a guess at the character's intended age as any, and, like Ace, she fits the description of "rebellious teen". She prefers to be known as "Ray", and is an experienced motorcyclist and mechanic. Given that she was actually written as a companion, it's unsurprising that she fits the role really well. She is resourceful (apparently always carrying some of her mechanic's tools about with her, just in case), brave, and dedicated. She's is also strong willed, and likely physically fit - as well as, at least on visual evidence, having the near-mandatory Attractive advantage.

In the story, she's is abandoned by her unrequited crush in favour of the latter shacking up with a humanoid insect. Which has got to be harsh, as rejections go. With nothing else to stay in 1950s Wales for, given the opportunity, she's an obvious candidate for travel elsewhere, and may, perhaps, regret not choosing to do so on the first opportunity.

The military group seen in the story Remembrance of the Daleks are an obvious source of player character material, and were even given their own spin-off audio series in 2012. They don't appear to be any sort of permanent organisation, at least in the TV story, and they're clearly replaced by UNIT a few years later, anyway. That doesn't mean that they couldn't serve as the basis for a campaign in the interim, but what about as PCs in a more time-travelling game? Of the three that survive the original story, the one with the most suitability for this sort of role is probably Allison Williams.

Because of the existence of the spin-off, we do have rather more to go on than we see on TV. Allison was born in Herefordshire, likely just before the Second World War, and studied physics at Cambridge University in the late '50s (according to one novel, in the same class as Anne Travers, seen in The Web of Fear). By the time of Remembrance of the Daleks, which is set in 1963, she is a postgraduate student working as an assistant for Professor Rachel Jensen. She completes her PhD the following year, and, depending how much of the spin-offs we wish to take as canon, spends at least a few years thereafter investigating weird stuff.

She likely has less attachments than the two older characters in the Counter Measures group, and hence is more likely to take up the chance of time travelling. She is obviously technically adept, and skilled at science, and has enough experience of aliens that the basic concept will no longer be a problem. Certainly, she seems to be cool under fire, and willing to prove herself when needed.

For those of you who prefer male PCs... yeah, sorry, not going to give you one this time round. So you'll have to make do with one who is at least good at combat: Mags from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Mags comes from the planet Vulpana far in the future - although how far is anyone's guess. Mags initially appears to be something of a punk, with a feral nature that suggests her native culture may be technically primitive. (Having said which, she has likely picked up at least some more 'modern' knowledge by the time we meet her, so her actual TL may not be that low).

Of course, it turns out that she's actually a werewolf, cursed to turn into a bestial hybrid under the light of the moon (any moon, apparently, although it's difficult to know for sure). Although she's probably not bad at combat at any time, it's in this form that she excels, albeit at the cost of going into a bestial frenzy. That it only happens under the light of the moon is also rather limiting, but nobody's perfect. However, at the end of the story, the Doctor seems to think that she will be able to gain control over the transformation, and - while she's not convinced - he's usually right about such things. Even if he's wrong, while in human form she's likely still agile, physically tough, and possessed of acute senses beyond those of normal humans.

Honourable mentions go to overacting thespian and part-time highwayman Richard Mace from The Visitation, intergalactic crook and generally dodgy bloke Sabalom Glitz from The Mysterious Planet et seq. (and that's the only 6th Doc one you're getting), feral-but-potentially redeemable Bin Liner from Paradise Towers, high-tech knight Ancelin from Battlefield, and, once he's no longer off his trolley, formerly-barking-mad Victorian interstellar explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper from Ghost Light.

Which, being as it was the last story of the classic show to be made, brings us to the end of the 1980s, and of the classic series. I'm not, at the moment, planning to extend "Companions as PCs" into the modern era, since those characters are well known even to a wholly modern audience. But, before I finish altogether, I'm pretty sure that something did happen in the 1990s...

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