Jan, 2010

What the Dickens?

Like Wilf in the most recent series, I appreciate the prospect of a good companion-that-never-was in the form of Charles Dickens. Dickens combines curiosity with a sharp intellect, perception with a entirely understandable interest in self-preservation.

Throughout ‘The Unquiet Dead’ – verging on a bottle episode once matters have settled on the encounters within the funeral parlour – Dickens fills the role of companion with enthusiasm. Doubting the Doctor’s technobabble, he nevertheless comes to embrace the extraordinary once the evidence stacks up to support it. His world-weariness and desire to debunk charlatans means the alien needs to work hard to break his resolve and single-mindedness. Dickens considers trickery and sleight-of-hand faced with mere apparitions, but in the end he comes around. Even when gripped with fear, his keen mind kicks into gear and brings him back to some measure of sobriety with a solution to the whole problem of the Gelf. Many companions of the past would have kept running, indeed you would have questioned their change in character if they hadn’t.

Dickens could easily function as a perfectly good foil to the Doctor, earthing him when the need requires it, questioning his decisions and reminding the Time Lord that he is no more master of the world around him than any of us. The Doctor may well have a machine that allows him to travel anywhere in time and space, and he may feel the Turn of the Universe beneath his feet – but, that’s not to say he cannot be surprised or taken off guard on occasion, faced with possibilities that passed him by or he was all too ready to ignore. The Gelf play on The Doctor’s good nature and his guilt in relation to the events of The Time War and that is almost his undoing.

For those who play Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space here’s a stab at a character write-up for the great author. I would not go so far as to claim perfection, as this happens to be the first time I’ve tried this; but, I think it more or less conveys Dickens character – at least within the confines of the Whoniverse.

Name: Charles Dickens
Attributes: Awareness – 4, Coordination – 3, Ingenuity – 5, Presence – 4, Resolve – 4, Strength – 2
Skills: Convince – 4 (Charm), Craft – 3 (Writing), Knowledge – 4 (Law, Literature), Medicine – 1, Science – 1, Subterfuge – 2
Traits: Friends (mG, The Ghost Club*), Lucky (mG), Photographic Memory (MG), Run For Your Life (mG), Voice of Authority (mG), Argumentative (mB), Cowardly (mB), Dark Secret (mB, family**), Insatiable Curiosity (mB), Obligation (mB, family), Sceptical (mB***)

* A group, based in London, engaged in the research and investigation of the paranormal, in which Dickens took an increasing interest in his later life.
** In his youth his whole family ended up living in debtors prison for a time and he dallied with certain affairs during his life of which he appears to have been thoroughly ashamed.
*** Dickens urge to doubt and debunk means he suffers a +2 bonus to his roll when subject of any conflict seeking to convince him about the supernatural (i.e. they’re going to have a hard time convincing him of anything). When faced with supernatural occurrences, Dickens will always err on the side of doubt – and will suffer a -2 penalty to any roll to overcome his suspicions.

You can access a perfectly good biography of Dickens on Wikipedia.

Can You Smell Chips?

If you needed to mine for plot seeds to fuel your Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space scenarios, what better place to start than ‘The End of the World’?

Seems to me the guest list alone makes for an interesting well of possibility. How about learning more about Cheem and how they evolved as a major economic force or perhaps face freedom-threatening litigation at the hands of Jolco and Jolco? What happened at the prototype trials for the hyposlip travel system invented by the Brothers Hop Pyleen? What stellar events did previous platforms managed by the Steward witness and which particular Corporation funds these cataclysmic dinner parties? Who designed the platform and why did they choose to engage in so many retro-flourishes, like the great fans maintaining internal cooling?

And I haven’t even mentioned The Face of Boe, the Ambassadors from the City State of Binding Light, the one and only Cal ‘Spark Plug’ Macnannovich or, indeed, the varied Chosen Scholars of Class Fifty Five! Plot decorations aplenty, even if not a full-scale seed or hook.

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Return to Rose

It’s a weird old world sometimes. You watch something and really have your doubts; but, returning to it later, you find you view the whole thing in another light.

I watched ‘Rose’ this morning, the first Christopher Eccleston story and the introduction of The Doctor to a whole new generation. The story combines elements to satisfy both newcomers and fans alike, pitting The Doctor against an old foe, the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness.

When I watched it originally, I may have fixated on the false Mickey too much as a bad part of the story… but, I’m not seeing that anymore. ‘Rose’ contains all the essential elements to get everyone onboard, introducing the time travelling alien Doctor who appears to be seen all the way across Earth’s history, who has changed his appearance over time and might well be immortal. Rose herself encounters The Doctor, enters the TARDIS and learns a little about what it is to be a Time Lord, sensing the Turn of the Universe (or at least the movement of the world beneath his feet).

The quirky performance of Chris blends perfectly with the notion that what we see here happens to be a newly regenerated Doctor. Inspecting his big ears, he seems fairly satisfied with the transformation. He slips between excitement, sadness, inane grins and sharp rebukes at almost a moments notice.

The Auton Mickey actually isn’t as bad as I recalled, and in truth his appearance and odd speech likely lean towards getting all the kids onboard that this is not the Mickey we met early. You need to prepare the kids for decapitation by establishing the inhumanity of this plastic Mickey clone.

I remain sad that Clive didn’t survive the episode. In a way, he created the very theories of doom following the wake of the Doctor that led to his own demise. Shot by an Auton, Clive is no more – but his wife obviously knew a little about his theories on the Doctor and he clearly had other visitors. LINDA would come after him, intent on getting close to The Doctor; but, it would seem others hold a similar fascination.

Combine the flash effects of the Nestene Consciousness with a fast paced script and some snazzy, upbeat music – and you have an ideal point to jumpstart the series. Like Rose, we find ourselves wanting to get in the TARDIS at the end and follow him on to his next adventure.

At the same time, I really watched the episode to get into the Auton/Nestene mindset in preparation for playing the Doctor Who: Adventures in Space and Time RPG scenario ‘Arrowdown’ tomorrow (hopefully). Basically, Auton equals undead – faceless, shambling foes who can run like Rage-infected zombies if you really need them too. In the store, Rose backed off from stumbling Auton shamblers, while after the Doctor arrived suddenly they could run down corridors at quite a pace. It seemed to me that when the Nestene exerted control, the Autons ‘warmed up’ gathering pace over a short period (half a minutes or so). In the same way, when the Nestene connection died, the Autons continued for a moment, then became confused and bewildered, before finally freezing back into mannequins.

Perhaps, in game terms, Autons can spend a Story Point to cancel their Slow Trait for a short period of time. In addition, when the Nestene exerts or loses control, the Autons warm up or freeze over a period of 30 seconds.

Anyway, re-watching ‘Rose’ worked out as an all-round experience. I’m looking forward to watching (and gaming) some more.

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Screen Time

Yes. Okay. I finely folded in under the non-existent pressure and purchased the Doctor Who Gamemaster’s Screen from Leisure Games. I had intended to fashion my own (probably from twigs and lint), but after a couple of weeks without progress I admitted defeat. I would like to kick off running the game this weekend and without a screen I would feel quite naked.

Once I have the game running and under way, I fully expect to post a fuller review of the game, the screen, and my own campaign. Oddly, and like so many other players, I seem to be thinking along the lines of a thirteen episode Season; but, we’ll see whether I have the energy to carry it for that length of time.

Currently, I have:

1. (prologue and) Arrowdown
2. Countdown (updated version of FASA adventure)
3. Taking the Tunnel (Victorian Under Siege 2)
4. And… Um…

Well, I have a notion of where it’s going and what the finale will involve… But, for the moment, I’ll allow my creative urges to take me where they will – which quite possibly might go off-course from Episode 1!

Geronimo

I have finished reading the Doctor Who RPG, but now I have to get the time to play it. I have plans for the game, but…

One way or another, the list of things to do always seems to run a whole lot longer than the hours in the day, so I suppose I will have to do something about that.

I have used the time available to me while doing other work to get in some research, watching ‘The Time Warrior‘ and ‘The Keeper of Traken‘ in the last couple of days.

I enjoyed the Pertwee outing, though the plot seemed stretched a little thin and the Sontaran’s plans seemed very sketchy. Why did he need those hypnotised scientists when he seemed to be doing most of the work? All they seemed capable of was carrying pieces of paper around the castle basement. Also, when the scientists managed to shrug off the hypnotic control, courtesy of the Doctor’s pen torch and a polka beat (or similar), how did the Sontaran fail to hear them discussing their plans to fake their hypnotised state? He was temporarily stunned and bound – not unconscious and deaf. Otherwise, the story had me entertained and introduced Sarah-Jane Smith as a ballsy feminist without any time for male chauvinism of any kind.

The dying days of the Tom Baker period didn’t necessarily show the energy and enthusiasm of his earlier time as the Doctor, and ‘Traken’ feels at once thick and thin on plot. Exposition aplenty blocks up the first episode, but then the plot seems to just revolve around a lot of running through the limited set and some dubious relationships between the good guys and the evil. Traken seems to consist of a throne room, the Source room, a cell and the garden – all of which seem to have connections into one another, both obvious and secret. Despite the peaceful and serene aura that protects Traken, the foul Melkor arrives as a statue and acquires little more than moss over the time that follows – and yet the Trakens’ fail to suspect any foul play. Adric and the Doctor prove capable of jiggery-pokery to make the A-Team weep (“Ooooo! Ooooo! Oh, ‘eck! Look, Dan!” – “I know… they’ve modified the van!“), circumventing the whole functionality of the ancient technologies that protect Traken. The final scene of The Master claiming a new body seem utterly tacked on, like an after thought more than anything else… and the fact The Master survives so easily at all without minimal repercussions seems to undermine the whole story and the effort The Doctor put into defeating him.

Prize Turkey

Perhaps, on repeated viewing, I’ll learn to appreciate the conclusion of The End of Time. Perhaps, with time, I will see the deeper layers and enjoy the writing. Right now, I feel let down. I appreciated elements – The Master developed as a character and his bargaining at the end with both sides made for some great acting. I fair wept when the Time Lords made their return, all those high golden colours, all that pomp and ceremony. The threat of the Time War breaking out across the cosmos.

Alas, it was not to be. The Time Lords could not return. The Master could not just live to see another day, perhaps a little wiser to his role in the life of The Doctor. The Doctor, battered and bruised, would not be returning to the life of a renegade, chased by the Time Lords for his role in their ‘defeat’. No, instead we had to erase and rewind – sending the Time Lords back into their Time Locked prison, apparently taking The Master with them (as he represented a loose end, a practical means to their escape in the future). Despite seeing a massive planet looming over them, the people of Earth will probably shrug off events and continue to live as normal. And The Doctor survived a protracted regenerative cycle long enough to scoot around half of time before collapsing in the TARDIS and turning into Matt Smith – conveniently releasing energy to wreck the interior (and windows) of the time machine and warrant a makeover come Spring 2010.

I didn’t engage with the final sacrifice – which failed utterly to match up to that made by Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. I shed a couple of tears – when The Master sacrificed himself and Sarah Jane saw the 10th Doctor for that last time – but, when the 9th Doctor regenerated I was sobbing. I had tissues at the ready this time and didn’t use a single one of them. I welled up emotionally more on the return of the Time Lords than I did when the 10th Doctor cried out that he didn’t want to go. I felt that the ‘prize’ of seeing his companions for the last time succeeded only in stemming the emotional tide, turning the regeneration into a moment of relief rather than sadness. Someone commented on Twitter that they’d been left tapping their foot, almost begging for The Doctor to just die and get it over with.

I would have preferred a less carefully orchestrated handover of a blank slate between Russell T Davies and Steve Moffat. A few loose ends more wouldn’t have gone adrift. I realise that Steve wouldn’t want the baggage of keeping characters that Russell had created, but I doubt it would have hurt to the ongoing story too much to have… well, some ongoing story!

As I said, I may mellow in time and repeated viewing. Then again, I might not. I shall report back if any revelations strike me and I undergo a regeneration in my jaded opinions of this festive effort…