Category Archives: Current Doctor

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor reading information from off of her sonic screwdriver

Player Throws The Switch

I’m going to talk about It Takes You Away, so in principle, the article contains spoilers if, for some reason, you haven’t watched it yet.

So, the Doctor, halfway through, goes into a detailed discussion about the Solitract. She explains that one of her seven grandmas used to tell her stories about it and expands on the genesis of the entity and the situation forced upon it.

As a plotline for a show, this might seems a little strange—it feels like the Doctor makes a bit of a leap in reaching the conclusion that the Solitract could be the source of this problem. However, there have been stranger leaps of faith before… (the combined belief of a planet reversing the aging process of a Timelord, anyone?)

What I found interesting, from the perspective of a Gamemaster, was that this recollection and exposition about the Solitract felt like a “Hang on, I have an idea!” Story Point expenditure in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. A big spend. It’s the sort of spend where you make a leap and maybe the player creates something that explains everything and turns the plotline on its head. It feels like maybe even the Gamemaster didn’t have an answer—or if they did, they weren’t committed to it so strongly that they’re unwilling to let the players change it.

On that level, it feels really organic and rather nice.

Cookie Dough

So, you have this mixture. Sweet and tasty, with a generous scattering of chocolate chips. You’re not committed to making small cookies, big cookies, or maybe something else—you just know you have something tasty. And then someone rolls up and suggests cookie dough ice cream or, heck, freeze the dough for another time because they’re got doughnuts fresh from the bakery.

That’s what this feels like… (sort of)

It’s the sort of game where the GM has the start and finish in mind, but hasn’t nailed everything down. A tasty dessert in mind—cookies; and everyone should come away happy.

The start is a spooky house in the woods with a girl inside scared of a monster and certain that it took her father away. The end is the girl and her father being reunited—nothing more than that; that’s the end game here, the reunion. The existence of a specific threat probably has crossed the GM’s mind, but not necessarily the specifics beyond a rough outline.

It could be cookies, but it doesn’t have to be… It could be a crafty alien merchant stealing people out of other dimensions to rob them and feed them to his local predator… Couldn’t it?

Indeed, Ribbon and the interstitial void with the moths feel like they could have been the answer for the disappearances, but later—once the player characters pass through the cave, find the other side and the Solitracts makes an appearance—the GM redefines the role of the void and Ribbon; it almost becomes an afterthought.

(It sort of feels that way in the show, like the writer needed something to sit between the two houses but wasn’t really solid on the idea of what and why.)

Hook. Close. Improvise the Rest.

Sort of. That’s a lot to ask.

Certainly, it works that way with convention games for me. I have a hook, a way to start the game; I also have some actors and a couple of encounters in mind. The rest… Well, we shall see what happens and figure it out on the fly.

It’s why I recommend reading, viewing and listening to more Who, because how the variables arrive and work within the confines of the story can be educational if you break it down.

You have to be comfortable with it—letting the players come up with something totally new and off the wall is a big ask—but, part of the deal should be that everyone contributes to the success of the story. Perhaps, next time, you will need to haggle or bargain the players down because you have an idea that’s really cool and you don’t want to lose it. That’s OK—it should be fun for you too, and that means some of the prep should find a conclusion.

But, if you keep the prep light and fluffy, willing to improvise, it won’t hurt so much when the players derail it all.

Stenza Technology is really annoying and hard to decipher. One-hundred and thirty-nine wires, seven of which don’t make sense.

Hell Yes

Hell-Bent-12th-Twelfth-Peter-CapaldiIf anyone cares about my opinion, I enjoyed Hell Bent.

I liked the stand-off at the beginning, with connections back to earlier episodes in the ‘barn’ – and the sense that the Doctor had the people behind him as a hero. The line in the sand and the escalating interest from the Time Lords… that worked for me, and I found it amusing.

The resolution of the Hybrid might not have necessarily been quite as expected, but I guess that was the point. It shouldn’t have been as expected, as then we would have been complaining it was all obvious. I think this sort of harkened back to the unofficial history of Gallifrey and The Other. The Doctor is a figure of significance in the history of Gallifrey, but not one who stands front-and-centre such as Rassilon or Omega.

I liked the Cloister Wraiths. I look forward to seeing more of The General – if for no reason other than the increasing possibility that The Doctor really might one day regenerate into a female form (Missy, The General and Romana show you just how brassy and ballsy a female Time Lord can be, so I say, why not?!).

I really liked the end because it turned the tables and left us knowing something The Doctor doesn’t. Personally, I’m all for the notion of what happens and the possible adventures ahead for The Diner.

For me, this was Maisie William’s strongest performance. Me felt self-assured and Maisie came across really well. It might have been the intention all along, but her turn as Ashildr has never really convinced me. Even in ‘Face the Raven‘, Me didn’t quite have the solid sense of the actor in control. I’m not quite certain what it was. ‘Hell Bent‘ finally served up the character played right and Maisie acting with the confidence you feel in Thrones. Heck, maybe I’m misplacing the blame and should aim my finger toward the director or the script? Who knows…

I hope that we can now have an accessible Gallifrey and a prospect of Time Lord intervention now and then. I sort of liked the arrogant and mildly incompetent touch of old. With Rassilon gone, why can’t we have a Gallifrey once more without the sense of being the greater evil?

Under the Lake

Doctor_Who_Under_the_LakeOtherwise known as Echoes of the Baker.

Seriously, for all the right reasons, this could easily have been an episode featuring Tom Baker as The Doctor with his trusty screaming, but supportive, companion Sarah-Jane Smith.

An undersea base – once a military base in a village drowned by a broken dam – has been reopened because of the potential for profit. It would appear fuel reserves under the valley make a visit by a survey team worthwhile. Alas, they come across an alien spaceship containing an indecipherable message – and things go wrong from there.

Ghosts! Spirits of the dead, I tell you!

In short order, the ‘base under siege’ plot kicks in, with The Doctor and Clara as trapped as a crew – though, perhaps our time travels entrapment comes down to curiosity and the need for adventure more than physical restriction.

From the point of view of tie-in novels, the gap between here and the last episode must be huge. Clara seems positively buzzing on the potential for more excitement and adventure – which, upon arrival at the base, a gloomy and silent corridor doesn’t seem to offer.

However, once the traveller come face to face with the ghosts and then the crew, the excitement ramps up enough for Clara to stay.

Best bits?

Well, the gloom, claustrophobia, detective-work monologuing, and the sense of the alien about The Doctor harken back to Tom Baker’s turn as the Time Lord. Ghosts and mystery clash with technology and profiteering.

Clara has clearly set herself a goal of giving The Doctor a better bedside manner, providing him with convenient flashcards with calming and reassuring statements – which he proceeds to delivery in the most mechanical and unconvincing way. Lovely stuff.

Yes, we have been in the siege situation before. However, isn’t there some old truth about only a finite number of plots existing, so you have to recycle them eventually. Nothing wrong with that. I personally love the opportunity to run around the same lengths of a dimly-lit corridor from different angles time and time again. A curve, a junction and a couple of doorways – and voila! A whole base to have fun in.

You get Alien, Aliens and Alien3 thrown in for good measure, with the crew hunted, the gobby military personnel, the profiteering rep of the company with only his interests in mind, and the attempt to lure the adversary into a trap. Thankfully we pulled short of emulating Alien Resurrection – perhaps with The Doctor playing an over-enthusiastic and brutal game of tiddly-winks.

The episode just felt packed with nice touches and gentles nods at firm favourites – the TARDIS uneasy and the sound of the cloister bell, The Doctor quite forward about who he likes and who he has no time for, the brainstorming session for ideas where The Doctor just needs people to bounce his own ideas off, the House-style realisation that what The Doctor thought was completely wrong and suddenly the clues all fall into place.

And UNIT. The psychic paper flashes a UNIT ID and one of the personnel in the station has heard of The Doctor. No need for the traveller to worry they lack the credentials to take charge – UNIT still pack some clout and they’re not to be argued with.

Oh, and interesting to see the reuse of a known quantity in the Tivolian ghost. David Walliams played the Tivolian Gibbis in The God Complex – so we have a baseline understanding (assuming you’ve seen the episode) that they’re meek and pathetic by way of a defence mechanism. As The Doctor muses, what would turn such a cowardly alien into such a menacing and psychotic ghost?

I loved it and I can’t wait to see the next episode. The cliff-hanger ending was excellent… and simply leaves me wanting more, more, more.

Saving Santa

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OK – I can see Christmas Who remaining as divisive as ever. Since the Sycarax, murderous Christmas trees and oompah Santa-masked mercenaries took to the screen in the Tennent-period, has anything divided Who fans more? OK – Catherine Tate, perhaps. And Clara.

Indeed, I sense Clara will have much to do with the division this time. Some, like my wife, expected something of this Christmas episode that Moffat didn’t deliver. They expected Clara to leave, to walk away from the TARDIS once and for all. She had, at the end of the final episode of the series, spun a tale to the Doctor that she was happy with Danny Pink and he had nothing to worry about. He did the same in the respect of finding the location of Gallifrey. Christmas could have been the final final farewell.

That didn’t happen.

You should have heard my wife’s words of exasperation, like she had taken Moffat’s solemn promise and he had broken his vow. I don’t recall said words exchanged. I remember Canada acting all coy when he appeared on The One Show.

Perhaps Moffat also didn’t help his cause when he named this episode Last Christmas and provided the Act 3 twist that he did. Naughty man.

For my part, I would have missed Clara and I’m happy she will continue the journey. For all we know, she might pull a Bonnie Langford and only linger for a short while before handing over to someone else. It doesn’t make sense to spoil Christmas with something as wrenching as a departure. Christmas almost needs to be the episode you could miss altogether and not spoil the continuity of the show. Almost. Indeed, after the Tennent-period that pretty much has become the case.

I liked the episode. I liked Nick Frost as Santa, and those cheeky elves. I enjoyed the plot and the threat. A lot of the knowing humour hit spot on for me, making me chuckle – like Santa explaining he can carry all the presents for the children of the world because his sleigh is bigger on the inside.

In all likelihood I will give the episode further consideration and come back to it. For me, I found a lot to enjoy here and felt far more satisfied than I have with some Christmas episodes. It felt like a good episode with a dose of Christmas, rather than a dose of Christmas with a hint of Who.