Christopher Eccleston

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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