“Confessional priests. Very popular. Genetically engineered so you forget everything you’ve told them.”

silenceconfessFirst introduced in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ we finally get an origin for the Silence in ‘The Time of The Doctor’. Rather than being an alien race we learn that they are created for the Papal Church to act as confessional priests.

The Doctor suggests that not only do you not remember the Silence you forget the very thing you were confessing. While this does remove the guilt felt by the confessor it removes any kind of emotional or spiritual growth. Unless the Silence also gives post-hypnotic suggestion.

We don’t know exactly when he came by this information. He doesn’t recognise them when they first meet but it is possible that he did encounter them and forget. Certainly the Doctor’s relationship with the Papal Church and Tasha Lem seem to extend to before his 11th incarnation. Possibly it is only after long periods of exposure that he learns to unlock those hidden memories.

The Kovarian chapter employed the use of electronic eye patches to ensure that they didn’t forget who they were working with. We don’t see anyone on the church ship using anything similar but they know enough to leave space for the Silence when they are assembled.

We don’t know whether the Silence roam the ship looking for someone to confess, as they do with Clara, or whether they have a confession booth. The latter would make more sense, since at least people would make a choice.

The level of technology possessed by the Church of the Mainframe and whatever time period they come from must be very advanced not only to genetically engineer a new species but give them an ability that baffled even the Doctor, at least for a while.

We have an explanation for their memory erasing powers but not their other abilities, like their electrical blast. Are some sinners beyond redemption and so the Silence simply execute them? Were they also designed to act as soldiers, as they do later take to the battlefield. This wouldn’t be out of place with the military structure of the organisation.

We know that the Silence stood with the Doctor on the fields of Trenzalore. They have their lightening as an offensive weapon and their memory erase to act as defence. Without cover a Silence doesn’t have much of an advantage against a hostile soldier who has them in their sights. Only if their attacker looks away or the Silence is able to find cover will their defensive power kick in and prevent their opponents from hunting them. At the very least the enemy wouldn’t be able to give accurate accounts of their numbers.

While the Silence are genetically engineered we don’t know how long they take to create or mature. Is it a lengthy process or can they be rapidly created and deployed as cannon fodder?

During the battle we see three Silence touching hands and sending an electrical discharge into the air. We can only speculate whether this was just to act as a flare or whether it had any offensive effect (such as releasing an EMP pulse to disrupt the Cybermen).

So if the Silence were created to perform a particular role then they were at best servants and at worst slaves. Is it any surprise that those that were the Kovarian chapter attempted to enslave humanity?

The stated aim of the Kovarian chapter is to eliminate the Doctor to ensure his silence but is this shared by the Silence? How does secretly ruling Earth since the dawn of history achieve that goal.

Either they were being overly cautious (and never took the opportunity to eliminate the Doctor when he arrived on Earth prior to the 1960s) or they wanted to rule the planet. They do seem to have more influence and power in the Kovarian chapter than their counterparts on the Papal church so it is possible that the organisation was powerless to stop them.

If they were created by humans (and the majority of the Church of the Mainframe appear to be) it is possible they were attempting to influence their creators. Could the Silence have engineered their own creation? Could a Silence influence a scientist so that he thought he was creating a unique being when in fact he was just following the instructions of a template. This could mean that the Silence actually are an alien race (just one that tricks other species into replicating them) or if time travel is involved they are an artificial race that originate from a time paradox.

Did the rebellion of the Kovarian chapter plant the seeds of discontent with the Silence or are the rest of their rest just waiting for a chance to overthrow their masters? If so the PCs might have to cope with similar rebellions in the future.

If this is an example of the kind of beings the people of the Church of the Mainframe can create what else can they make? Since they possess time travel there is plenty of opportunity to reveal that other species are also genetically engineered.

One obvious candidate are the Weeping Angels which are supposedly old as the universe but no one knows where they came from. Their bizarre nature could, like the Silence, have been crafted in a test tube. Either by chance or design they were placed earlier in the universe.

Imagine what kind of universe it would be where the Silence and Weeping Angels are used as tools and weapons. No longer is humanity finding nightmares in space but creating them.

If humanity is responsible for creating some, if not all, other species then it explains why Earth is often at the centre of the universe and draws so much attention. If an alien race knows that humans from the future created them then invading the planet gives them control of their future (and the possibility of erasing themselves from existence).

Finally we see that some of the Silence have been infected with the Dalek nano-clouds. Since the Daleks can gather information from the converted slaves it is possible that the race would always be aware of infected Silence. As long as at least remains linked to their network they’d be aware of the existence of the species.

The Doctor was able to reverse engineer the technology and the humans were able to create it. Would the Daleks now be able to do the same and give themselves the same ability. The idea of Dalek race you forget when you aren’t looking at them is a scary idea. Just the thing to base an adventure around.

Posted in 11th Doctor, Time Of The Doctor | Leave a comment

“You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.”

Flatline’, written by Jamie Mathieson, finds the Doctor trapped in the TARDIS leaving Clara to play his role investigating a spate of missing people in Bristol. Soon she is trying to keep a small group of people alive in train tunnels against an alien race from another dimension.

This is another strong episode, providing creepy monsters who can be near invisible or take the form of their victims as shambling, juddering, mob. It effectively puts Clara in the Doctor’s shoes, allowing her to appreciate what the Time Lord has to go through and letting the Doctor see ‘himself’ from a different perspective.

Spoilers From Here On In!

The opening teaser establishes the horror of the episode as a panicked, bearded man contacts the police to warn that ‘they’ are everywhere before he himself vanishes, leaving the phone swinging from its cord. The camera pans across to reveal the smeared shape across the wall his the victims own screaming face.

The Doctor is returning Clara home, with his companion insisting that Danny is fine with her travelling with the Doctor. The first hint of strangeness is that the exterior door has shrunk and when they emerge they find they are not only in Bristol but the TARDIS is nearly half its normal size.

The Doctor is at first bemused by this, happy that he has a mystery to investigate. The change to the normally static status quo of the TARDIS is an effective element of ‘wrongness’ to proceedings, combined with the location filming along a railway track. It feels alien to be out on the outskirts of the familiar urban settings.

While the Doctor re-enters the TARDIS to fix the problem Clara explores the surroundings to see if she can find the cause. She encounters a group of community workers painting over graphite and learns that people have been vanishing in the local area, their images appearing on a mural in an underpass.

This is an effective introduction to the supporting cast of this episode. Christopher Fairbank as Fenton is instantly hate-worthy as he makes young graphite artist Rigsby, played by Joivan Wade, paint over his own work. For his own part Rigsby shows compassion, mistakenly believing Clara is at the memorial mural because she has lost someone and revealing his own loss.

By the time Clara returns to the TARDIS is has shrunk so small she can put it in her bag. The Doctor is trapped inside but is able to pass her the sonic screwdriver, psychic paper and hacks her vision so that he can see what she sees.

The SFX for this sequence aren’t entirely convincing (they are too flat) but they are fun. The Doctor’s face peering out of the tiny TARDIS is humorous without being too silly. Jenna Coleman appears to be having fun, with Clara relishing the chance to play the role of the mysterious Doctor herself, armed with his tools.

There is some good send up here with Clara teasing the Doctor by suggesting he only picked his title because it made him sound important. Nonetheless she manages to recruit Rigsby as her guide.

Investigating the home of the last victim, seen at the start of the episode, the group believe it is a classic locked room mystery. Pleasingly the characters are shown to be imaginative thinkers, coming up with theories about what might have happened. Rigsby own theorising is what convinces the Doctor that they should keep him around. Clara comes up with the plausible theory that the victims are being shrunk, like the TARDIS, but this proves incorrect.

Moving on to the home of the first victim they encounter PC Forrest, played by Jessica Hayles. The Doctor has moved on to the theory that the victims are in the walls, passing Clara a sledge hammer that appears magically out of her bag like something out of ‘Mary Poppins’. This is a delightful piece of comedy that works wonderfully with the science fiction premise.

Things soon take a darker tone as PC Forrest is attacked by slithering flat creatures that absorb her into the carpet. Her screams of terror as she futiley pulls at her vanishing legs are suitably horrific.

Rushing to investigate the noise Clara and Rigsby find a red network of lines on the walls which the Doctor identifies as PC Forrest’s nervous system. Two dimensional creatures are dissecting their victims in order to understand them.

When the 2D aliens go on the attack again, flattening the door so they can exit the room, Clara and Rigsby are left dangling from a suspended chair. The tension gets mixed with comedy as Danny phones Clara in the middle of crisis. Lying about the situation Clara’s gasps and groans, as they try to swing the chair through the window, is a surprisingly risqué joke.

Returning to the memorial mural in the underpass, where the community workers are about to paint over them, the group discovers that the mural is actually the 2D creatures wearing their victims like camouflage.

When one of the workers, Stan, is flattened the group seek shelter in the nearby train depo. Following the lessons of the Doctor Clara assumes leadership of the group, barking orders and lying to them that they’ll be alright. This neatly continues the theme of exploring the nature of the Doctor and shows that Clara now readily accepts (and emulates) the behaviour she railed against in ‘Kill The Moon’.

The Doctor hopes that this is all just a misunderstanding and the 2D aliens are unaware that they are killing people as they explore this new dimension. This hope appears to be dashed when the aliens send coded communication that appears to taunt the group as they claim their next victim.

Fleeing into the train tunnels this increases the sense of claustrophobia, as the group are surrounded by brick and darkness. The 2D aliens show their mastery of the 3D dimension by creating a giant hand that snatches away community worker Al in another spectacularly good SFX sequence that leads into the creatures emerging from the ground using the forms of their victims. These shambling, zombie-like avatars are deeply disturbing. Their victims are now just puppets, shells manipulated by an unknowable intelligence.

During their escape an argument between Fenton and Clara leads to the tiny TARDIS being dropped down a hole on to another train track. Low on power, unable to move, the time machine risks being destroyed by an approaching train.

In another imaginative sequence Clara suggests the Doctor use his fingers to drag the TARDIS of the track, in the style of Thing from ‘The Addams Family’. This is extremely suspenseful, especially as after the Doctor pulls the TARDIS free it tips back on to the rail.

As a last ditch effort the Doctor puts the TARDIS into ‘siege mode’. It survives the train but now the Doctor lacks the power to turn it back to normal. With no way in or out and with life support shutting down all hope lies with Clara.

After recruiting the help of another train driver Rigsby is ready to sacrifice his life by using the train to ram the approaching aliens. Clara isn’t about to let one of her own companions die, pointing out that a hairband can do the job just as well.

When the train proves ineffective Clara pulls another trick from the Doctor’s playbook, using your opponents abilities against them. Making good use of Rigsby’s artistic talent she has him draw a convincing ‘flat’ door and when the 2D aliens attempt to restore its dimensions their energies are in fact going into the TARDIS, hidden behind the picture.

In a triumphant sequence the TARDIS returns to its full glory and the Doctor emerges, dismissing the aliens with a wave of his sonic screwdriver and naming them the Boneless. In this scene the Doctor seems to not only know who he is but accept it. His declaration of his own identity is akin to the moment in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ where the 11th Doctor has chosen his own costume and declares that he is protecting the Earth.

With the monsters dismissed to their own dimension there is time for reflection. Fenton has learnt nothing from the experience, saying that there is no real loss on those who died. The Doctor is disturbed that Clara is similarly pleased by her performance.

The Doctor concedes that Clara was exceptional but that it wasn’t good. This returns us to the exploration of morality with the Doctor apparently viewing their actions as necessary but not what he believes to be good.

Indeed Clara shows some of his darker tendencies, willing to lie and reasoning that her victories mean that she doesn’t have to mourn those who have died. This sinister angle is further enhanced as we cut to the mysterious Missy observing the scene and musing that she has chosen well with Clara.

Mummy On The Orient Express’ and ‘Flatline’ both do a great job of continuing to fleshout and re-establish the relationship with the Doctor and Clara. The uncertainty that plagued the first half of the season has passed and this pairing seems more stable in the past. Different to how the 11th Doctor and Clara were but now less fractious. Something that could last.

Flatline’ is another episode from Jamie Mathieson that really seems to get to the heart of Doctor Who. While Moffat writing is often brilliantly clever Mathieson has produced stories which are strongly reminiscent of the classic series with tales that are imaginative without being too convoluted.

Posted in 12th Doctor, First Thoughts, Flatline | Leave a comment

“The destiny trap. You can’t change history if you’re part of it.”

explosionA standard time travel trope is that by attempting to change an event you cause it to happen. This is also known as a pre-destination paradox, since the event wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t time travel how could it have happened for you to want to travel back and change it?

The Doctor calls it the destiny trap in ‘The Time Of The Doctor’ where we learn that the Kovarian chapter attempted to kill the Doctor before he came to Trenzalore. The Doctor believes that this is how it always happened and so the chapter only ended up fulfilling their role.

As discussed in my article here time can be rewritten. If the Doctor isn’t at the centre of the change it could be that he wouldn’t be aware of the alterations. The Kovarian chapter might have succeeded in changing history, it just didn’t change the end result.

Their major contribution would appear to be the creation of  the cracks in time that allowed the Time Lords to send their signal. ‘The End Of Time’ showed that another group of time locked Time Lords were able to send a signal into normal space-time. There is no reason to believe that the cracks are the only way to communicate, just the most convenient.

No matter what planet the signal was transmitted from (or through) the result would be the same. The Papal Church would still arrive first, the Doctor would investigate and the same stand off would be achieved. Everything is exactly in place for the Kovarian chapter to go and change things.

In my last article I noted that their plan to blow up the TARDIS probably required the Doctor to be inside. In one version of events this could have happened but as the shockwave of destroyed TARDIS created the cracks it provided a warning and resulted in the Doctor instead being placed in the Pandorica.

The Doctor suggests that without River Song he’d have died before reaching Trenzalore, indicating that this is another thing that the chapter did to create the very thing they were trying to change.

Tasha Lem say that the Kovarian chapter engineered River Song but it is important to note that they didn’t create her. Without their influence Melody Song could still have been conceived within the TARDIS but stayed with her parents (possibly changing her name since the inspiration, Mel herself, didn’t go to school with them).

In all the adventures in which River Song saved his life (most notably in ‘Forest of the Dead’) it was she that summoned him. Without River there are no incidences in which her absence would result in his death.

It is possible that River Song was an important part in the Doctor’s life without the influence of the Kovarian chapter. Their relationship could have been much the same, even going as far as becoming his wife. It isn’t hard to imagine that the Doctor could feel responsible for her, helped the Ponds raise her and eventually take the closest thing to a Time Lord he has out into the universe to act as his companion.

It could be that chapter captured River Song and turned her into a weapon specifically because in the original record of events she was so special and close to him. Who better to become an assassin? The tragedy would be that the Doctor is still unaware of what he has lost.

All of this is to illustrate that we can’t take for granted that this was pre-destination. Time could have been rewritten and the Doctor (along with everyone else) just no longer remembers what happened originally.

This can be how you deal with pre-destination in your games. It could be very possible to alter history, just that no one remembers it. From the perspective of those in the revised timeline the time travellers only managed to cause the events that were always destined to happen. The time travellers might also have their memories altered so they now believe they were trying to change those events.

This can put a new twist on things when the PCs encounter time travellers who have fallen into the destiny trap. The PCs might goad the time travels that this was pre-destination when the time travellers reveal that in their timeline things turned out differently.

Do the PCs preserve the history that they remember or do they change things back?

As mentioned in the previous article if the universe is sentient and capable of self-repair then pre-destination could just be healing mechanism, ensuring that everything makes sense.

For example the Doctor says that you can’t change history if you’re part of it. He could mean that if history records your actions in it then the consequences of your actions have already been played out. It was foolish to try to stop the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore because they chapter already knew he was there.

Yet we know that after ‘The Wedding of River Song’ the Doctor launched a campaign to remove all mention of himself, even going as far as using memory deleting technology acquired from the Silence. Along with those records might have been any mention of the Kovarian chapter.

The reason that the chapter didn’t know they were part of history is because the Doctor deleted those records. He himself became part of destiny, ensuring that those events would occur because the time travellers didn’t know they’d already carried out their plan and failed.

If they’d known they might not have tried which would mean there no longer would be records of their activities so in the newly revised timeline where they didn’t they now do. This endless revision was only avoided because the Doctor deleted the records.

This could the universes influence, tying everything up. This gives the GM the excuse to make sure any loose story threads are tied up, as coincidence and circumstance ensure everything works out.

Posted in 11th Doctor, Time Of The Doctor | Leave a comment

“Did a wizard put a curse on you about mini-breaks?”

behindyouMummy on the Orient Express’, written by Jamie Mathieson, is a classic pulp horror story in the vein of ‘The Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. The Doctor takes Clara to a space train for their final adventure before they part company only to discover the passengers are being picked off by a spectral mummy only the victim can see.

The stylish 20s era train, entertaining guest stars and gripping supernatural hook make this a stand out episode.

Spoilers From Here On In!

The teaser for this episode indicates that this is going to be something special, with a wonderful panning shot of the exquisite train, a clock ticking down from 66 seconds in the corner. Immediately it establishes the style and suspense that will run throughout the episode.

Janet E. A. Henfrey, previously seen in ‘The Curse of Fenric’ as the doomed Miss Hardaker, again returns as a victim to a vampiric monster. This time she plays Mrs Pitt, who spots the mummy of the title approaching her in the dining cart. No one else can see the monster so despite her attempts to raise the alarm she is soon drained of her life, while everyone else believes that she has died of natural causes. The final shot echoes ‘Enlightenment’ revealing that the train is in space.

The mummy is a very effective monster. The fact that only its victim can see it helps further isolate them. Lacking a physical presence there would seem to be no way to stop it and despite its slow pace it can just appear right behind you. It is the stuff of nightmares. The onscreen countdown only increases the sense of inevitably to its victims demise.

Still intending to end her association with the Doctor, Clara has agreed to one last trip. The Orient Express in Space is to be a wondrous farewell to the good times. The sadness of this is nicely conveyed by Clara’s sad smile that so vexes the Doctor (again hinting at the Time Lords slightly autistic nature).

Foxes appearance as a lounge singer, singing a 1920s version of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, sums up the mixture of time periods and genres. The setting will continue to hark back to a bygone era while drenching itself in the future technology of tomorrow.

After an encounter with the grieving granddaughter of Mrs Pitt, Maisie, the time travellers learn about the death and the visions of the mummy. At first dismissing it as nothing the Doctor talk himself (with the 4th Doctor’s voice) into investigating.

While studying the life extending chair Mrs Pitt was sitting in when she died the Doctor encounters the mysterious engineer Perkins, played by Frank Skinner, who becomes something of a replacement for Clara. Perkins is a great character hiding his enigmatic and slightly sinister qualities under a friendly persona. I half expected him to be revealed to be a creation of the Doctor’s mind, until other people started talking to him, since there are similarities between the two.

Clara, meanwhile, encounters distressed Maisie, who wants to see her gran’s body in the luggage hold. Showing her caring nature and concerned for Maisie Clara ends up trapped with her in the hold, along with a sarcophagus.

Not only does Clara’s imprisonment provide some measure of peril but her talks with Maisie help explore the themes of relationships. Maisie hated her grandmother but feels terrible guilt that she is dead, that their time together is now over. Similarly Clara is here to mourn the death of her friendship with the Doctor.

The Doctor is busy consulting with one of the numerous doctors and professors who are currently onboard, Professor Moorhouse. Christopher Villiers, previously in ‘The King’s Demons’, provides his with a lot of class.  This scene neatly provides us with a lot of exposition as we learn more about the legends of the Foretold, the mummy that kills its victims in 66 seconds. The only glimmer of hope is that there is something that can be offered to escape death.

The Doctor’s investigation leads him into a confrontation with Captain Quell, played by David Bamber. A former soldier he fits the theme of this season, playing an authority figure still carrying physical and mental wounds from the past.

With the bodies mounting up as the Foretold continues to claim victims the Doctor realises that the qualifications of the passengers is no coincidence. Someone has brought them together to study the Foretold and learn its secret.

He is promptly provided right as the mysterious ‘Gus’, speaking through the computer, drops the facade revealing that the dining car is a lab and that much of the staff and other passengers were hard light holograms.

This sets up the idea of science being used to combat the supernatural. The situation is drenched in horror as the scientists find themselves using each other as test subjects in order to save themselves.

This is demonstrated as Professor Moorhouse becomes the next victim. He reserve and detachment, while the Doctor coaches him to make scientific observations about the monster, breakdown as he realises that he is going to die. The fear, panic and despair are effectively portrayed while the Doctor can offer no comfort.

Captain Quell is the next victim and it is interesting to see how a soldier reacts compared to the scientist before him. In his final moments he is still defiant, firing his weapon because what kind of soldier dies with bullet in his gun? He gets some small comfort that this is a good way to die for a warrior and thanks the Doctor for waking him up.

Given how soldiers have been portrayed this season, or at least how the Doctor has treated them, this is a great scene and performance. Quell shows courage and provides valuable information, making observations while staring death in the face.

Having established that the Foretold chooses its victims based on psychological trauma the Doctor persuades Clara to bring the next victim, Maisie, to the lab, even if she has to lie to her. Against her better judgement Clara does just that, telling poor Maisie that the Doctor can save her.

As it turns out the Doctor does have a plan, transferring Maisie’s grief to his own mind. This effectively makes him the next victim. The clock starts and the mummy begins its approach. This is incredibly tense since we know he only has 66 seconds to find a solution.

Realising that the parchment that the Foretold seems to haunt isn’t a scroll but a flag the Doctor correctly identifies the mummy as a soldier. Ancient technology keeps it out of phase with reality using the 66 seconds to bring its victim into phase with itself (hence why it always appeared blurred to the victim to begin with).

There is indeed magic words to stop it and those words are ‘we surrender’.

The horror and futility of war is a reoccurring theme in Doctor Who, with the best solution being to end all conflict. This is beautifully summed up here and the weary Foretold, as much a victim in this story as anyone else, gives one last trembling salute and crumbles into dust, finally at rest.

Gus seems pleased with the results but shuts off the oxygen and blows the train up. Clara awakens on an alien world on a rocky beach. The Doctor saved the day while he slept, happy to draw in the sand until she woke up.

There is an ethereal beauty to this scene, as if Clara was waking from a bad dream. This gives them time to discuss the events and how the Doctor lies because he can’t guarantee success. Harking back to the previous episode he explains that sometimes all he has are bad choices but he still has to choose.

The Doctor offers Perkins a place in the TARDIS, since the engineer is intrigued by the time machine, but he declines. This is not that surprising but it is still surprising. Frank Skinner is great in the role and the character has a lot of potential as a companion of the Doctor.

The episode ends with Clara lying to both Danny Pink and the Doctor, deciding to continue travelling with him. The events of the adventure maybe giving her a better understanding of what the 12th Doctor has to go through.

This was an excellent episode, one of the best this season. It was pacey, had a well written characters, a plot that made sense and a very effective horror element. The use of light and shadow created an effective sense of mood, making the confines of the train believable (even if they were in space).

There were attempts to tie this to the end of ‘The Big Bang’ but my article here should indicate why the telephone call in that episode doesn’t really synch up with what is shown here. That aside it was a nice nod to the past, as were the jelly babies.

In conclusion this was one of the best of the 12th Doctor stories and I am looking forward to next weeks episode written by the same writer.

Posted in 12th Doctor, First Thoughts, Mummy on the Orient Express | Leave a comment

“Well I did come to Trenzalore and nothing can change that now. Didn’t stop you trying though, did it?”

goodmenrunIn ‘The Time Of The Doctor’ we learn that Lady Kovarian led a breakaway chapter of the Papal Mainframe back along the Doctor’s timeline to prevent the siege of Trenzalore. Their plan was to kill the Doctor, ensuring that he would never be in a position to let the Time Lords through the crack in time and reignite the Time War.

They were responsible for blowing up the TARDIS, thus causing the cracks in time and the events of’ ‘The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang’. We now know who, although not the how or why.

Does the Papal Church have knowledge of how to destroy a time capsule or is this something that the Kovarian chapter learnt themselves. Is it a remote weapon (maybe something that was left over from the Time War?) or something that has to be placed within the TARDIS.

They are also responsible for trying to turn River Song into an assassin. From her perspective ‘The Pandorica Opens’ takes place after ‘The Wedding of River Song’, when she has rebelled against the Church but could she still have been programmed to carry out their mission.

Could the voice whispering ‘Silence Will Fall’ been in her mind? A mental trigger for her to sabotage the TARDIS. It does begin to explode when she is alone in the craft and she has certainly demonstrated mastery of its controls and functions.

Her meeting the Doctor out of order could have been intentional. Ensure that the end of her timeline intersects with the 10th Doctor so that the 11th Doctor (the one that the chapter is trying to destroy), accepts her and in subsequent adventures trusts her (perhaps because he knows she dies sacrificing her life for his).

If true, even after River Song destroys the TARDIS both she and the Doctor are unaware of her involvement. Meaning that any other assassination attempts in the 11th Doctor’s future (and River Songs past) are more likely to succeed.

River Song could have been mentally conditioned to forget any paradoxes in her timeline. If she had successfully killed the Doctor at any point she might simply forget this (maybe with the help of the Silence) and if she meets another incarnation of the Doctor when their timelines meet not only would she not know what she has done but she could try to kill him again, with time rewriting itself as a result.

As with much of time travel this does seem confusing and the simplest idea is that the Kovarian chapter were trying to establish the fixed point in time at Lake Silencio but remember that River almost killed the Doctor before he reached that point in his life. Clearly she couldn’t have been programmed to kill him only at one particular point, just when the opportunity arose.

It would appear that the destruction of the TARDIS was meant to kill the Doctor and the destruction of the universe was an unforeseen side effect. The fact that the result of the attack echoed backwards and forwards through time resulted in the various races banding together to create a trap for the Doctor, thus removing him from the TARDIS when it exploded and creating a situation in which he could repair the damage. If you choose to think of the universe as a sentient entity then this can be seen as a method of self-repair.

Turning to the use of River Song to act as an assassin we can now assume that the Silence present as Lake Silencio was there to establish the fixed point by observing it. Just as the grave stones in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ prevented the Doctor from saving Amy and Rory having a member of the Kovarian chapter witness his apparent death ensured that it couldn’t be undone without a paradox.

Only these two events are mentioned so we could assume that the Kovarian chapter was defeated once and for all at the end of ‘The Wedding of River Song’. This is suspect as the defeat we saw occurred when history collapsed and those events were erased when things were returned to normal.

Not only is there the strong possibility that they escaped but that there were other attempts we didn’t hear about. The Kovarian chapter might continue to follow their agenda until either they are utterly destroyed or they think to check later in their own timeline and establish that the Doctor didn’t summon the Time Lords after all.

In your own campaign the Kovarian chapter could be encountered by earlier incarnations of the Doctor, either directly or backing other enemies. Following the track record they might be responsible for all the strange things that happened throughout the Doctor’s established history.

For example they could decide that the Master has the best chance of the destroying the earlier incarnations of the Doctor and are directly responsible for saving him whenever his destruction seemed assured (for example ‘Planet of Fire’) or they might have attempted to strike at the 4th Doctor just as he was time scooped during ‘The Five Doctors’ leading to him being trapped in the vortex.

There is a lot of potential for them to join up with the Great Intelligence, given that their agenda is much the same. They could be responsible for his creation or team up with him in his plan to wipe the Doctor from history. If they are moving backwards along his time stream they could encounter the Great Intelligence first from their perspective and it his plan that inspires theirs.

Other PCs might become involved with the Kovarian chapter by learning of their attacks on the Doctor and trying to stop them. They might pursue them all along the Doctor’s time line, ensuring that his history is preserved.

The PCs could find themselves under attack from the chapter because they will encounter the Doctor later in their time stream and help him. If the church is able to eliminate them now then the Doctor could die. This could be a good way to foreshadow a later meeting.

The chapter could be allies of the PCs. If River Song is indeed brainwashed to get close to the Doctor so might the PCs. The Kovarian chapter could help the PCs, providing information, aid and technology all because they know that eventually they’ll meet the Doctor, at which point their programming or the hidden bomb in the equipment they’ve been given will activate.

A companion who is secretly backed by the Kovarian chapter would make for a good background detail or secret. The companion could be a sleeper agent, unaware that they are a weapon to be used against the Doctor when they eventually meet.

If River Song is responsible for the destruction of the TARDIS then any encounters with her in your own games have that potential for danger. She could be completely unaware of her own actions as she sabotages their efforts from the inside.

While this could run the risk of damaging continuity if you are using an established Doctor it isn’t out of character for him to know more than he is letting on. If the Doctor realised the truth before ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ he might still keep the information to himself both to preserve his own history (so that the events of ‘Silence In The Library’ can still occur) and so that he might learn more.

Alternatively the Kovarian chapter could have been fooled and thought that the Doctor had really died at Lake Silencio. The Doctor could have successfully erased details of his adventures (even later ones) and managed to keep a low enough profile that the chapter believed they’d succeeded in their cause.

What would they do then? Would they return to the Papal Church to face punishment or accolades for what they’ve done only to find that history hadn’t changed? Would they try to avoid the consequences of their actions by finding somewhere else in space and time to spend their final days? Or would they decide on a new mission? The chapter could decide that as they’ve succeeded once in making history better that they should continue improving it.

Posted in 11th Doctor, Time Of The Doctor | Leave a comment

“Look, when you’ve grown up a bit, you’ll realise that everything doesn’t have to be nice. Some things are just bad.”

cobwebsonthemoonKill The Moon’, by Peter Harness, concerns the Doctor and Clara taking Courtney Woods to the moon only to discover that in the future it poses a terrible threat to Earth. With time running out the Doctor leaves it to humanity to make the final decision.

While it has an interesting idea and an initially creepy setup this episode is let down by a confused morality and preposterous lack of science.

Spoilers From Here On In!

Following on from the events of ‘The Caretaker’ Courtney Woods, a pupil at Coal Hill School, has gone off the rails since the Doctor took her for a trip in the TARDIS, especially now as the Time Lord told her she isn’t special.

Finding Courtney has somehow found her way into the TARDIS (does the Doctor not lock the TARDIS doors anymore?) and unwilling to lie and say the school is special, as Clara wants him to, the Doctor takes them all to the moon in 2049.

There they find a group of astronauts on a desperate mission to nuke the moon because it has suddenly increased its mass wrecking havoc on the planet below. These initial scenes are well done, presenting the viewer with an intriguing mystery.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is at his best when he uses his uncompromising nature to prove a point, here telling the astronauts to shot the girl first thus forcing them to confront the horror of what they are proposing. This also sets up the ethical nature of the later decision that will confront the group.

Exploring the remains of the Mexican mining survey that apparently initiated the change in the moon 10 years before they find the buildings covered in cobwebs and the desiccated remains of the missing astronauts.

Director Paul Wilmshurst boosts the fear factor by having the group explore the ruins in darkness, moving amongst the dead. This builds the tension nicely for when the horrible moon spiders make their appearance, picking of the third rate astronauts Duke and Henry.

The presence of Courtney pays off here, as she is left floating in zero-g as one of the deadly spiders approaches her, fresh from its last kill. Courtney proves her worth by using anti-bacterial spray to finish off the monster and revealing its nature as a germ.

It is just a shame that Courtney decides she doesn’t want to do this anymore and is safely secured away within the TARDIS. There she quickly becomes bored, although it is humorous that she begins posting photos to tumblr (although we never see her take the photos and when in time are they being posted?).

This feels like they didn’t have enough for the character to do and weren’t willing to keep a school girl in danger. Her boredom brings back unpleasant memories of Angie from ‘Nightmare in Silver’.

With Courtney out of the way the adults investigate the cracks in the moons surface. The Doctor discovers (off-screen) that the moon is actually an egg and a gigantic winged dragon is preparing to hatch from it.

While the Doctor is overjoyed with the discovery of this possibly unique organism Lundvik, the only remaining astronaut, is unsurprisingly intent on kill it before it can cause further destruction to Earth.

What is probably more surprising is that Courtney and Clara argue against killing this unknown alien because it is a baby and blameless for its actions. As Lundvik points out its actions, intended or not, have already killed many and many more will likely die if it is allowed to hatch which potentially includes the children of Courtney and Clara.

Rather than help the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS, once Courtney has brought it to him using a dvd from ‘Blink’, letting the three women make the decision for themselves. This brings us to the crux of the plot and the decision that was teased at in the opening of the episode.

Hermione Norris does a great job as Lundvik, presenting well reasoned arguments why they should kill the baby without making her seem like a villain. Indeed Clara and Courtney come across as unreasonable, unwilling to make a difficult decision because they find it distasteful.

Clara again tries to hand off the decision making, this time to the Earth. Broadcasting to the world she asks the population to turn their lights off to show they want to kill the moon and lights to wait and see what happens (ignoring the fact that following the greatest natural disaster known in history how many would hear her message or have electrical lights to turn on or off?).

With the Earth overwhelmingly showing their wish to kill the unknown monster Clara defies them and shuts off the nuclear countdown. With the decision made the Doctor returns, taking them to the safety of a beach on Earth to witness the birth.

There is some impressive SFX here, as the moon disintegrates harmlessly and the space dragon unfurls its wings. Of course its a happy ending, with the Doctor confirming that this will renew an interest in space travel and that the sight of the space dragon was the first thing that humanity didn’t want to destroy (although they had only a few moments before).

Jenna Coleman gets a great emotional scene as Clara confronts the Doctor about his behaviour. She no longer knows when he is lying and feels patronised by his behaviour. The Doctor explains that it isn’t his place to make major decisions for humanity and that he was showing her respect by giving her the responsibility but Clara obviously still feeling the guilt for what she might have done tells him to go away.

We get a brief scene with Danny Pink, revealing that his leaving the army was due to similar feelings of disillusionment. He correctly points out that Clara is still angry at the Doctor and so isn’t yet done with him.

It is difficult to say if the viewer is supposed to agree with Clara in this episode and similarly disapprove of the Doctor’s actions. It has been point out before that Clara is something of an egomaniac. Here she decides her opinion is more important that the rest of the whole population of the planet and her anger at the Doctor is mainly because he forced her to make a choice rather than making the decision for her.

Where this episode really fails is the revelation about the moon. If the moon is an egg it doesn’t explain why the Mexican expedition in 2039 caused it to suddenly gain mass in a way in which eggs don’t. Nor does it explain why, once hatched, the space dragon and can instantly lay another moon sized egg. The ‘egg shell’ of the moon is still thick rock and would likely have caused terrible devastation as showered the Earth.

The lack of an interest in space travel also doesn’t match with what we’ve seen in the show. ‘The Waters of Mars’ indicated that NASA had built the highly successful Project Pit Stop to allow planetary exploration prior to 2041. It just doesn’t feasible that they would be forced to use a shuttle from a museum for a rescue mission rather than build a new one or be unable to get anyone other than third rate astronauts to send.

The moon also has a significant place in the mythology of both the Silurians and Cybermen that will have to be re-evaluated.

While Doctor Who is science fiction it has to be believable and this story fails at that, both in the facts its presents and the actions of the characters. It is ironic that Lundvick’s statements that being an adult means accepting not everything has to be nice is what makes this episode feels childish when it tries to have everything work out.

Posted in 12th Doctor, Kill The Moon | Leave a comment

“An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space.”

calltoadventureAt the end of ‘The Big Bang’ the Doctor is distracted from solving the dangling plot thread of the exploding TARDIS and the Silence by a phone call. He is told that an Egyptian goddess has been freed from the seventh obelisk and is now on the Orient Express, in space.

We never see this adventure on screen (although we know that Amy and Rory conceive River Song shortly after this). There are enough clues to put together a tantalising story of our own.

Starting with the Egyptian goddess we have:

  • Ammut: A hybrid of crocodile, lion and hippo associated with the idea of punishing the soul. She would either digest the soul in acid or a lake of fire. She worked for other gods but wished to enter our realm. She could be an alien from her description, trapped in another dimension.
  • Anput: A desert goddess associated with protection. Normally depicted as human and occasional with the head of a jackal. This would allow her to blend in and introduce a ‘who-dunnit’ element to a plot set on the train, as the PCs try to identify her. Possibly a were-jackal.
  • Anuket: Goddess of the river Nile. While this doesn’t translate well to space she is also associated with fast-moving things (arrows, gazelle, etc). Depicted as either a normal woman with a headdress of feathers or with the head of a gazelle.
  • Bast: Goddess of protection and cats. Could this be a trapped Catkind (from ‘New Earth’ and others) or Cat Person (from the book ‘Invasion of the Cat-People’)?
  • Hator: A cow goddess, she does have a strong sci-fi link in that she was associated with the Milky Way. While she is generally a goddess of love, beauty, dancing and music she has a dark past as Sekment, goddess of destruction. Ra dyed some beer red and thinking it was blood Sekment drank it, became drunk and passed out. When she awoke she didn’t want to kill people any more and became Hator. Ra in this story could easily be the Doctor. It is also possible that Hator regains her taste for human flesh.
  • Heket: A frog-faced goddess of childbirth and fertility. She was seen as a mid-wife, over seeing the birth of people created by either Khnum or Heh. Could she be a Sontaran, over seeing the birth of clone batches?
  • Isis: Considered the greatest of the Egyptian goddesses. Known as great magician and thus the goddess of magic she could possess advanced technology. This could make her a real challenge for PCs.
  • Kebechet: The goddess of freshness and purification. A strong candidate for our escaped goddess as she is known as ‘the wandering goddess’ or the ‘lost child’. Sometimes depicted as a woman with a snake face or as a snake with a body of stars.
  • Ma’at: Goddess of order, truth and justice. Physically she looked human. Her job was to prevent chaos so could be an agent of the White Guardian. She might also associate with races driven by strict laws, such as the Judoon.
  • Menhit: Goddess of war and, like Bast, depicted as a cat (in this case a lion). She could be a warlord or soldier, which would make a good contrast to the generally peaceful Cat-Kind.
  •  Nephthys: Goddess of night, rivers, sleep, nature and mourning. While depicted as a woman she occasionally had blue skin and wings. She was said to be a friend to the dead, escorting them into the afterlife which could work well if there are murders on the Orient Express.
  • Nekhbet: Patron of Nekheb, a major urban centre in the Early Dynastic period and site of a large Necropolis. This could be a member of the Shansheeth race encountered in the Sarah Jane Adventures story ‘Death of the Doctor’ both for her appearance and the races association as undertakers.
  • Nut: Goddess of the sky either depicted as a blue skinned woman or a huge cow. She has strong associations with space, as the mother of all heavenly bodies.
  • Sekhmet: Goddess of fire and water and, like Bast and Menhit, depicted as a cat person. Known as the destructive eye of the sun she might have used a heat ray as a weapon or other solar powered technology.
  • Serket: Goddess of scorpions. Depicted as a woman or a scorpion, her scorpions stung bad people and she had the power to cure other people. Sometimes associated as an aspect of Isis. A good choice if you wish to have people poisoned on the Orient Express and the PCs forced to find the culprit.
  • Seshat: Goddess of knowledge. Could this knowledge be due to an alien or time travelling origin? Associated with astronomy and mathematics she could be a spaceship pilot, trying to calculate her way home or even know the secret of block transfer computation.
  • Tawaret: A hippopotamus woman known to protect pregnant women. She is also the demon-wife of Apep, the god of evil. Could she be protecting a pregnant passenger on the Orient Express, carrying the seed of evil?
  • Tefnut: Another cat-person, this time the goddess of water and fertility. She is also closely tied to the sun and the moon (maybe she has hijacked the Orient Express to go there).
  • Wadjet: Depicted as a snake-head woman or a snake she was the goddess of the land and protector of kings. She could be a reptilian alien that sets up rulers of countries, the true power behind the throne.

Pyramids of Mars’ also establish the existence of the Osirians, a powerful race that either posed or with the inspiration for the Egyptian gods. Any of the above could be exiled members of that race.

The 7th Obelisk could be anything but the closest match I can find is the Obelisk of Montecitorio. Constructed originally in Heliopolis before being moved Campus Martius in ancient Rome by Emperor Augustus to be part of a sun dial.

The red brick structure collapsed between the 9th and 11th century (possibly due to fire, earthquake or escaping goddess). It was reconstructed in the 18th century and again used as a solar clock at the Piazza del Parlamento in Rome.

This gives you either Egypt or Rome as the site of the Doctor’s first encounter with the Goddess and many different time periods for it to take place in. Was the prayer meeting some form of psychic ritual to seal the goddess away? How did it escape?

The Orient Express was a long-distance passenger train that ran between 1883 to 2009. It ran from London to either Istanbul or Athens (the route changed over the years). This adventure could either concern the original Orient Express being sent into space (possibly due to the goddess) or a futuristic space train, named after the original (similar to the Titanic in ‘Voyage Of The Damned’.)

The Doctor refers to the caller as ‘your Majesty’. If the call comes from Egypt it could be Queen Nefertiti (if their relationship predates the encounter in ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’) or Cleopatra (who River Song has just posed as in ‘The Pandorica Opens’.)

If it is set during the run of the original Orient Express the caller could be Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth II. If set in the future you are free to introduce a new queen for the Doctor to meet. It could also be Erimem, who is calling from Peladon.

Is the Egyptian goddess hiding on the train, requiring the Doctor and the Ponds to unmask her? Is she holding the passengers hostage? Is there something on the Orient Express that she needs? If this is the original Orient Express how will the Doctor and his friends get them back to Earth without disrupting time?

There are many possibilities but hopefully I’ve provided you with enough material to work with. This adventure could be a good opportunity for the reality of the married life to hit Amy and Rory, as well as for them to start thinking about where they want to go on their honeymoon.

Posted in 11th Doctor, Big Bang | 1 Comment

“I’m a caretaker now. Look, I’ve got a brush.”

promoThe Caretaker’, written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat, sees the Doctor going undercover at Coal Hill School to deal with an alien menace and intruding upon Clara’s life. This is a story in which the monster is incidental, rather it is an exploration of Clara’s relationship with the two important men in her life and what happens when they meet.

There are few laughs to be had but the comedy is weak, particularly as it relies on playing up the nastier elements of the new Doctor’s personality at the expense of Danny Pink and the detriment of the Doctor as a character. Regardless the episode moves at a good pace and it is nice to have an episode set at the school where it all began.

Spoilers From Here On In!

The story for this episode is slight so I won’t spend to much time focusing on it. In brief the Doctor is hunting a Skovox Blitzer, a deadly robot capable of destroying the planet, which has been attracted to East End London because of the arton emissions caused by the TARDIS’ frequent visits there.

He poses as the Caretaker so that he can turn Coal Hill school into a trap, not taking one moment to realise that Clara might object to his endangering the innocent people there. The monster is kept on the periphery for the most part, while the episode focuses on the farcical comedy resulting from the Doctor’s presence and the resulting drama when the Time Lord realises that Danny Pink is her boyfriend.

Gareth Roberts previous episodes, ‘The Lodger’ and ‘Closing Time’, have both explored what happens when the Doctor has to pretend to be something ordinary. ‘The Lodger’ was perhaps the most successful of those as understanding the relationship between people and what motivates them helped the Doctor overcome the threat with ‘Closing Time’ doing something similar, Craig’s love for his child preventing the Cybermen converting him.

Here ‘The Caretaker’ explore what that title means. The Doctor assumes the role, cleaning up the school, dealing with sinister puddles and fixing the electrics. He approaches the job as he does saving the world, dealing with problems but not caring about the people.

In contrast Danny Pink and Clara, as teachers, care about the children and the staff at the school. Both are concerned about them when they learn that there might be an alien threat, wanting to evacuate the school until the danger has passed.

Danny also cares about Clara in a way that the Doctor can’t. This harks back to ‘Into The Dalek’ where Clara defines herself as the Doctor’s carer. The 12th Doctor defeats evil because he considers it his job, not because he particularly likes the people he is saving.

The Doctor and Clara’s relationship continues to be redefined as father and daughter. This comparison is outright stated during the episode, although the Doctor thinks this is ridiculous as he believes that he and the Clara look to be the same age. This could therefore be seen as the story of a father learning to let go of his daughter.

At this point the Doctor is aware that Clara is dating someone and this could all be a ruse for him to find out who. His own prejudices blind him to the fact that it is Danny Pink and mistakenly believes it must be Adrian, the man that reminds him of his younger  (11th incarnation) self.

When the Doctor believes Clara is romantically interested in Adrian his own ego is flattered and he approves. This leads to some misunderstanding as he gives Clara his blessing. More could have been made of this farcical situation but it is quickly dropped and the truth revealed.

Into The Dalek’ established the Doctor’s dislike of soldiers and it is clear he views Clara’s attraction to Danny as a betrayal. She has rejected the values he has tried to instil in her causing them to drift apart.

This can be seen in the scene in which the Doctor is aware that Clara has brought an invisible (thanks to the Doctor’s watch) Danny Pink into the TARDIS. He tests her by suggesting they go off for a quick trip in the TARDIS but she refuses, because she knows Danny is there.

Here the father finds that his daughter no longer wants to spend time with him like they used to because of another man in her life. He still remembers a time when she would drop everything for him and now spending time with him is no longer the most important thing.

The Doctor even begins auditioning for a new companion to fill that daughter role in the shape of disruptive influence Courtney Woods (seen in the background of previous Coal Hill school scenes) but soon finds she doesn’t have the stomach for it.

This then provides the core drama for the episode, rather than the imminent destruction of the planet. For his part Danny comes out the best, coming across as a reasonable and dependable. He doesn’t demand that Clara give up her relationship with the Doctor, only that she re-evaluate it and see the Doctor as he really is.

The Doctor is portrayed less well, bringing to mind the ugly way that the 9th and 10th Doctor treated Mickey. Seeing the 12th Doctor belittling Danny for being a former soldier and refusing to accept that he could be a maths teacher strikes against the very ethos of the show and the character. It is also unfortunate that the only time the Doctor has shown to be accepting of someone’s partner is when they are Caucasian.

The confrontation is a great scene for Peter Capaldi and Samuel Anderson. Here are two strong willed, intelligent men trying to prove their worth. Once the Doctor has identified himself as a Time Lord Danny quickly works out that this is about worth and that the Doctor believes himself to be better than a lowly soldier.

This effortlessly leads from the Doctor’s protests that this isn’t true to his giving Danny an order. The rage and authority displayed by Capaldi sells the scene and recalls the fact that William Hartnell, before taking the role of the Doctor, was best known for playing army sergeants.

The resolution, in which it is Danny who saves the day by making himself visible, wins the approval of the Doctor nicely completes this storyline. The Doctor has accepted that there is another man now who will take the responsibility of caring for Clara.

The episode’s penultimate scene shows Clara and Danny in domestic bliss, hinting at what life could be like for her if she were to stop travelling with the Doctor. Danny raises an important question about why she would continue to go flying off in the TARDIS when she has a life on Earth, especially if she hasn’t got a romantic love for the Doctor.

The final scene returns to the ongoing plot of those who die finding themselves in heaven (also known as the Promised Land and the Nethersphere). Here it is an unfortunate cop (a great little performance from Andy Gillies) shot earlier by the Skovox Blitzer.

His details are taken by Seb (played by Capaldi’s ‘Thick Of It’ co-star Chris Addison). The white bureaucratic realm staffed by more than just Missy (who is glimpsed but is apparently very busy) helps deepen the mystery of what is happening in these sequences. Could this really be the afterlife?

There are weak points to this story, aside from the Doctor’s prejudices. The Skovox Blitzer really comes across as an after thought and seems more suited to ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ (with that being said that was a series I greatly enjoyed). It was a generic placeholder, with no development or background. It was simply a threat because the story needed one.

Danny’s last second rescue was also marred by the ridiculous somersault over the killer robot strained credibility and seemed completely out of place.

In conclusion this is an episode that will be remembered more for its character moments than its plot or comedy.

Posted in 12th Doctor, First Thoughts, The Caretaker | 2 Comments

“God speed gentle husband.”

royalweddingWhat happened to Queen Elizabeth after the events of ‘The Day Of The Doctor’?

In the same year of 1562 Queen Elizabeth became infected with smallpox. This nearly killed her and left her with pock marks that she covered with the white makeup that was popular at the time.

The Doctor or your PCs might be around to help save the life of Queen Elizabeth. The smallpox could turn out to be an alien disease, perhaps contracted from the Zygons or other aliens.

This brush with death caused her advisers to suggest that she marry and produce heirs as soon as possible. While she courted many and arranged marriage negotiations with foreign royals she never did marry.

We can assume that Elizabeth kept her marriage to the Doctor secret and while she saw the advantage of opening diplomatic channels through the pretence of arranging marriage she honoured her bond to him.

You might want to examine her relationships in closer detail. After so many years she may have given up hope and be about to marry someone else when the Doctor (or other Time Lord PC) arrives and reminds her of her vows.

If the Doctor truly did sleep with Queen Elizabeth is is possible that she had his child? If so it would mean that his child would have a claim to the throne, not only threatening history but placing the child in danger from those who wish to claim rulership of the country.

Queen Elizabeth, in time of conflict, did her best to broker peace. This befitting someone chosen by the Doctor. Did he influence her rulership or is this a characteristic that she already possessed which attracted the Doctor?

PCs in this period know that they can rely on Queen Elizabeth to seek a peaceful outcome. As long as she can be persuaded that her kingdom will not be endangered she can be a powerful ally.

A constant threat to Queen Elizabeth came from her half-sister Mary, Queen of Scots and the Catholics who supported her. While it is easy to paint them as villains they did legitimately believe that Queen Elizabeth, according to their religion, had no right to be on the throne.

This led to such events as the revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, which received support from Pope Pius V. This created an atmosphere of mistrust where any Catholic was a potential traitor, with measure coming into place by 1570 to exclude them from power.

Allies of Queen Elizabeth have plenty of opportunities to foil plots to remove her from the throne. They can do this out of loyalty, love or just to ensure that history is protected. Aliens and time travellers might support the rebels in order to seize the country for themselves.

Persecution is something that Doctor Who has explored before and the PCs might find themselves protecting Catholics. While they can’t change society they can still make sure that innocent lives are not lost.

Queen Elizabeth was still not safe, even after the death of her half-sister. Philip II of Spain made a claim that his daughter, Isabella, had a claim to the throne as she was descended from Edward II. To this end he sent an Armada to invade England in 1588.

This gives the PCs an opportunity to be involved in a historic conflict and meet such prominent figures as Sir Francis Drake. It is notable that part of the reason the invasion failed was due to unusually strong storms and cold weather. The PCs might be responsible for this or they can seek out the source (which might be alien in nature).

Due to the fact that the Spanish had used Ireland as a base Queen Elizabeth declared war on the island, to bring the country under control. This lasted between 1594 and 1603, with the high cost of the campaign resulting in an economic crisis between 1594 and 1597 not to mention further provoking outrage from Nationalists and Catholics.

These events allow you to have adventures based in Ireland during the war, a dangerous but pivotal time. While the United Kingdom has frequently been explored in Doctor Who there are plenty of secrets that you could have unearthed during the conflict.

The resulting high taxes and famine in Britain can be stark reminder of the price of conflict. How would the Doctor react to seeing what his Elizabeth had done? Such is the problem with relationships with historical figures. You can’t change their behaviour without altering time.

The Shakespeare Code’ takes place in 1599, 37 years after the events of ‘The Day Of The Doctor’. We know at this point she considers the Doctor her sworn enemy.

Is this because of his abandonment or did something else occur? It could be that the Doctor did oppose her or carry out some other act that made her so angry. At the time the Doctor didn’t bother to investigate but now that he knows what their relationship is he might investigate.

This can be the basis for an adventure for the Doctor or another group of time travellers. It could be that the very action of investigating puts in motion events that result in Queen Elizabeth considering the Doctor her enemy.

If you want to preserve the relationship between them then it could be that the Queen Elizabeth in ‘The Shakespeare Code’ is another imposter. The Doctor might realise that his Elizabeth would never act in this way and seek out the real Queen.

PCs who meet Queen Elizabeth in her early years could receive her patronage. Just as the Doctor was made Curator of the Under Gallery she might give them equally important responsibilities.

They could similarly receive sealed messages from the past, requesting they act to protect the country. This can be very puzzling for them if they haven’t yet met the Queen (or at least don’t remember it).

Posted in 10th Doctor, 11th Doctor, day of the doctor | Leave a comment

“I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came up with magician!”

tellerTime Heist’, by Stephen Thompson  and Steven Moffat, has a intriguing take on a bank heist but is more style than substance. Strong visuals and special effects, particularly in the design of the alien Teller, make this episode enjoyable, rather than the story itself.

Spoilers From Here On In!

Doctor Who rarely deals with heists, despite the fact that the Doctor stole the TARDIS and thus is thief (something that Idris points out in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’). Despite his roguish tendencies the Doctor usually keeps within the bounds of the law, as long as the law is just.

Just as ‘Robot of Sherwood’ placed the Doctor in a Robin Hood story here he is dropped in a bank heist tale. One moment he is in Clara’s flat, about to answer the TARDIS phone, the next he is holding a memory worm (last seen in ‘The Snowmen’), all knowledge of how he and his companion got there erased.

This is a great setup, as they are thrown into working with the cybernetically advanced hacker Psy, played by Jonathan Bailey, and mutant shape-shifter Saibra, played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, to break into the impregnable bank in the galaxy, the Bank of Karabraxos. Recorded messages assure them that they agreed to this.

This forces the main characters to take action, as security is already hot on their heels, having to put faith in that there must be plan to get them in. The Doctor is soon taking charge, directing them to use their various abilities to get past the various defences of the bank.

Where this faulters is that the best things about a heist is the formation and execution of clever plan. Here those details are kept from both the viewer and the participants. This removes much of the tension as the group simply stumble from area to area, hoping that the key to advancing will present itself.

This is a shame as it gives us little time to appreciate Psy and Saibra’s contribution. Once Saibra has shape shifted into a client of the bank to get them inside she has little else to do. Psy contributes more, having access to blueprints and being able to shut down security systems, but this shown to be more to do with the technology in his head than skill (or at least we are given little insight into what he is doing).

Clara’s presence is almost unneeded. The only thing she does is apologise for the Doctor and convince the others that they can trust him. Aside from that Clara serves only to be put in peril.

Despite its reputation the bank’s only really impressive security feature is the Teller, a straightjacketed alien used by the staff to sniff out guilt. The hammer headed design for this alien is great, as is its ability to liquefy a person’s brain leaving them with a concave head (reminiscent of the ‘spoon heads’ from ‘The Bells of Saint John’).

It is the Teller that is the most important element of the story. Its guilt sensing ability is the reason that the team of bank robbers have to wipe their memories and it provides much of the danger as it stalks them through the labyrinth of corridors. Its eye stalks, curved upwards, give it the appearance of having horns and the scenes where it hunts the intruders brings to mind the minotaur in ‘The God Complex.’

The human face of the threat posed to them is provided by Ms Delphox, played by Keeley Hawes. While the character is serviceable her no nonsense, all business attitude does little to differentiate her from Miss Kizlet from ‘The Bells of Saint John’. Presumably she has to be evil so that we don’t mind that our ‘heroes’ are stealing from her bank.

There is some effective drama to be had in the deaths of Psy and Saibra, choosing suicide by atomic disintegrator rather than have their brains turned to soup and put on display. Psy in particular gets a great scene of defiance as he lures the Teller away from Clara.

These scenes are slightly diminished for a later twist which reveals the atomic disintegrators were actually teleporters. Psy and Saibra return, disguised as guards, to help the Doctor and Clara escape and resume the heist.

Much of the draw for this story, other than seeing who survives, is based on the mysteries established at the start of the story. How did they come to be here? Who is the Architect who organised the heist? What did each individual hope to gain from taking part? Who is the mysterious owner of the bank, Karabraxos? The episode was only ever going to be enjoyable if the answers to those questions was satisfying.

The prizes that Psy and Saibra were obvious due to what little we knew of their character and felt like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with each of Dorothy’s companions having something they want.

The revelation that Ms Delphox is a clone of the real Karabraxos was quite neat. Karabraxos disdain for her clones and willingness to despatch them made her most loathsome.

It also setup the best, if predictable, reveal that the Doctor was the Architect. Ever since we learnt the Architect was a time traveller it only made sense that the only plan the Doctor would follow was his own.

The reason, and the source of the phone call, was the most satisfying resolution of the mysteries.  The Doctor provided Karabraxos with his phone number and at the end of her life she calls the earlier Doctor to say her greatest regret was what she had done to the Teller.

Unlocking the final vault reveals the Teller’s mate and the Doctor proudly announces that this was never a heist, this was a rescue mission. The triumph in the moment almost distracts from the fact that a solar flare has probably just killed everyone in the bank (which doesn’t seem to bother anyone present).

The best elements of this episode were the visuals. In addition to the already mentioned special effects there was some good set design, reusing corridors with effective lighting. This was most notable when the team split up, the colour of the light suggesting something about their character and situation. White light for the Doctor (divinity or purity), blue of Psy (depression and the machines he has fused with) and red for Clara (highlighting danger and the demonic appearance of the Teller). In other scenes we have gold lighting to remind us of the treasure they’ve come for and later green light when the Doctor has alienated himself from the group.

The editing and transitions were also very well done. From the opening POV inside a washing machine we can tell this is going to be something unusual. The sudden jump from the Doctor answering the phone to holding the memory worm is funny but also conveys the sense of dislocation and confusion. Subsequent transitions give the feel of a slick, fast paced action piece but were slightly overused by the end.

Overall a pleasing story that unfortunately pales in comparison to what has come before. Much as with Thompson’s previous episodes I feel that there are good ideas which were never fully developed.

One final thought; should we read anything into the fact that on two occasions the Teller honed in on Clara’s guilt out of the group of four?

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