“That’s why he’s the boss. A soldier so brave he doesn’t need a gun.”

listenListen’, by Steven Moffat, is a return to the scarier side of the Doctor Who universe. Its premise is that we are never alone and that we are right to be afraid when the hairs on our neck stand on end, when we hear a creak in the night or fear the monster under the bed. A whole generation of children may never sleep again.

Reminiscent of the horror film ‘The Orphanage’ this story plays with what has a rational explanation and what might be the supernatural. At the same time it allows the story to explore how Clara, Danny Pink and the Doctor each deal with fear.

Visually interesting with a stirring ending this is another classic from Moffat.

Spoilers From Here On In!

The teaser for ‘Listen’ neatly establishes the sense of wonder and dread of the story. As the Doctor conjectures that there might be a species with perfect skills at hiding we are treated to some impressive visuals of the Doctor meditating on top of the TARDIS floating above Earth, observing fish at the bottom of the ocean and the TARDIS interior looking very eerie with its dark shadows and flashing lights.

The Doctor’s theory is seemingly confirmed when someone writes ‘Listen’ on one of his many chalk boards when he is alone in the TARDIS.

Clara, meanwhile, is just returning from a disastrous first date with Danny Blue. Similarly to ‘Into the Dalek’ we flashback to those events as Clara deeply regrets her actions in the present.

Samuel Anderson, as Danny Blue, works well in these scenes, continuing to make his character sympathetic and integrate himself into the main cast. The date scenes also show that Clara can be just as tactless as the Doctor, continuing to bring up Danny’s past as a solider as a negative.

Clara is soon distracted from her non-existent love life as the Doctor whisks her away to prove that we are never alone. A montage shows that everyone, throughout history, have the same dream of something being under the bed, including Clara.

Slaving her to the TARDIS telepathic circuits they attempt to home in on the night she had that nightmare only for her to become distracted by her thoughts of Danny. They end up at a West Country Children’s home in the 90s, where they encounter a young Rupert Pink (he’ll change his first name later).

The Doctor’s meeting with the care taker recalls similar scenes in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’. Tension is built as the Doctor identifies the weird things that most other people would explain away; talking to yourself, a coffee cup moving, a television turning off on its own. All indicate that there is something else there.

In Rupert’s room Clara finds the young boy is scared that there is something under his bed. To show him that there is nothing to fear she encourages him to climb under it with her only for something to lie on top of the bed.

These scenes, in which we know that there is something there but not what, work best in the episode. It preys upon that fear of the unknown, in which our imagination suggests the most horrible possibilities.

Capaldi has another good scene here, switching between the Doctor extolling the virtues of fear with false bravado to calm Rupert only to drop the facade and impress upon his companions the importance of not looking at whatever is hiding under the bed spread.

Realising that the Doctor’s has influenced her date by giving young Rupert a dream of being Dan the soldier man, Clara returns to restaurant to patch things up with Danny. Yet again her mouth runs away from her as she lets slip that she knows he was originally Rupert.

Before she can explain an astronaut appears, beckoning her into the kitchen. The astronauts appearance is strange and dreamlike, moving in slow motion and seemingly not being noticed by the other diners. Visually it is a nod to ‘The Impossible Astronaut’.

Following the figure into the TARDIS she finds out he isn’t the Doctor but Danny Pink’s great grandson, Orson Pink (who just happens to look exactly like an older Danny). He is a pioneer time traveller who ended up at the end of time.

The pink glow of the lonely planet Orson found himself on is eerily beautiful. The silence and emptiness successfully conveying that the Doctor, Clara and Orson are the only beings left alive. However the Doctor quickly identifies if that is the case why has Orson kept the airlock locked?

On the pretence that the TARDIS needs to recharge before they take Orson home the Doctor persuades them they need to stay one more night. His hope is that the mysterious hidden race, with everyone else dead, will finally make their presence known.

There is some nice build up, as Doctor and Clara wait to see if he is right. The rumble of the ship, the sound of metal shifting and banging. The Doctor offers a reassuring rational for all the sounds but there is always the possibility that it is also the sound of the unknown race approaching.

As the airlock starts to spin open on its own it is revealed that the reason for all of this is that the Doctor has to know. He is willing to face danger to find out the truth and willing to end his relationship with Clara if she doesn’t let him.

Clara and we the viewer never see what might be on the other side of the door. The TARDIS view of the exterior is too distorted and then the air shell is breached, threatening to blow the Doctor into the vacuum outside.

Orson overcomes his fear to rescue the Time Lord. With the Doctor unconscious and the TARDIS cloister bell ringing Clara attempts to pilot the vessel using the telepathic link. They land in a barn, which Clara investigates.

A small boy cries beneath a bed sheet and the approach of two adults forces Clara to hide under his bed. While in hiding it is revealed the boy is the Doctor, apparently set for a life as a soldier as he is unsuited for the Academy.

Once the unidentified adults leave the boy is disturbed by the Doctor yelling for Clara. In an attempt to prevent the boy from leaving his bed to investigate she grabs his leg, thus proving to be the origin of his particular nightmare.

The final sequences, intercutting between what Clara told the boy and her conversation with his older self in the TARDIS summaries what has been learnt about the nature of fear and how it affects people.

Clara has come to the conclusion that there isn’t a hidden species. The Doctor just imagined them to explain away his own fear. She has come to the conclusion that fear can be a positive. Not just for the physiological changes that occur, which the Doctor outlined before, but that it can bring people together.

This adventure has brought her closer to Danny, knowing that Orson is potentially part of her future. It has brought her closer to the Doctor, understanding more of who he is and in return she has brought the Doctor closer to his companions.

It is likely that the young Doctor exiled himself to the barn because he was didn’t want others to see him so afraid about his own future. Here Clara plants the seed that having companions means that you can be frightened together and take strength from that.

The premise of this episode is weakened by the fact that we’ve already been introduced to the Silence, a race who are perfect at hiding and can be with you even when you think you are alone. Still, the idea is scary.

There is enough room for there to be multiple explanation of what occurs. While the Doctor’s nightmare has an explanation why do so many other people have similar experiences? If it was just another child trying to scare Rupert in the children’s home how did they get in without making a noise?

The revelation that so much of it is due to the Doctor is foreshadowed. Not only does Clara point out the ‘listen’ on the chalk board is in his own writing but in the children’s home he is the one who takes the care takers coffee and gets into Rupert’s room without them noticing.

It was nice that not only does the scene in the barn tie into ‘Day Of The Doctor’ but the very first Doctor Who story with the line ‘Fear makes companions of us all’. In many ways this episode gets to the heart of the series, using fear to bring the audience together and allowing us to share the experiences of the main characters.

This another episode in this season that seeks to define the 12th Doctor. Clara associates him with a soldier who is so brave he doesn’t need a gun. He is someone who actively seeks out the most frightening things in the universe just so he knows that they exist.

Yet he is also flawed. If there never was a monster then the Doctor’s own fear was consuming him. Clara questions how long he has been alone, suggesting that without someone the Doctor is his own worst enemy.

While Clara continues to develop it shows that she is also flawed. As much as she’d probably like to blame the Doctor for disrupting her life she demonstrates she can do that on her own. With Danny she is quick to judge but resents his assumptions.

Her saving grace is that she can recognise and make amends for her own mistakes. Clara has grown into her role as a teacher. With patience and understanding she can educate others, including the Doctor.

Listen’ is the perfect example why less is more. The monster you don’t see if far more terrifying than any makeup or CGI creation. The episode uses the darkness to contrast with the bright moments in the characters lives.

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

“Time Lord art. Bigger on the inside. A slice of real time, frozen.”

timelordartMuch of the plot of ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ revolves around the use of stasis cubes. They appear as oil paintings, but with a 3D perspective. Like a TARDIS they are bigger on the inside.

Primarily they are regarded as Time Lord art. It captures a piece of time, allowing it to be viewed for all eternity. Those within are trapped within a single moment. What isn’t clear is whether the subject of the painting is physical removed from the universe.

Taking a photo of someone does not trap them inside the image, but that is because it is only a copy of the original. When the Doctor says that it is a slice of real time does the painting contain that exact moment or just a duplication?

If it is the former then a stasis cube is an excellent way to remove a subject, either to protect it or to imprison it. It can also capture a whole landscape (whether it be a desert or a city) and everything within that area.

Since Arcadia didn’t vanish (and the Doctor doesn’t believe that it would have when he first sees the painting) we can presume that it is the latter. In which case there should be a copy of the War Doctor, in addition to the version that smuggles himself into Black Archive.

It is apparent that some crystal cubes can be used to transport people into a painting. The Zygons have taken images of landscapes and send soldiers inside. They are positioned some distance into the image in a different form that that which they went in.

It is possible that just as the painting transforms a slice of time so it appears to have been depicted with oil paint that it can be programmed to arrange those entering the picture into a specific form and place.

This could be the difference between taking a photo of an actual event and posing a shoot. ‘Gallifrey Falls’ is something that happened while the Zygon constructed pictures are artificial.

From the outside the events within the painting appear to be frozen. Yet we see that the three Doctors are able to take action, breaking out in much the same way that Zygons must have done.

The Zygon’s plan also hinged on them emerging when Earth was suitable for them. Therefore they must have had some awareness of the passage of time and possibly even a way to gather information about what was happening.

Since the War Council General says that they would be trapped in a single moment we could interpret that ‘moment’ as being a short period of time. A few minutes in which for the Doctors to engineer their escape.

It could be that the reason that it appears frozen from the outside is that time is passing incredibly slowly. Things are moving just at a rate that would be imperceptible to the casual observer.

There is also evidence that the moment preserved within loops forwards and backwards. When it is revealed that the Doctors are in the painting we see an exploding Dalek, as well as several other events, rewind.

The Dalek is knocked back a short distance before it crashes through the invisible barrier of the painting and it emerges in the Black Archive. It is important to note that not being able to see this would make it difficult to escape, but it is possible that placed subjects can be put near it.

It is clear that this barrier isn’t near the perspective of the actual painting. ‘Gallifrey Falls’ is high above the city, some distance from where the War Doctor stood and presumably the Zygon in the desert didn’t have to trek all the way across to reach the perspective of that painting.

It could be that the technology used to take the initial image for the painting captures a specific radius. The view point that can be set for any point within that radius but the barrier remains at the epicentre.

We can assume that ‘Gallifrey Falls’ isn’t a unique example of such Time Lord art. The Doctor is just surprised that this particular moment was captured and that it survived. Therefore there could be other paintings of different moments in history.

Time Lord PCs who consider themselves artists could produce similar paintings (or they might have in the past). The TARDIS would allow an artist to find a specific historic moment to capture and can be the main purpose of an adventure.

PCs could find other surviving pieces of art. If they could find a way to enter and leave using the crystal cubes the Zygons possessed they’d be able the past and other planets without a Time Lord or a time machine.

While they might have only a brief time inside it could be enough to explore without fear of disrupting history. This allows them to revisit places as often as they like, as each cycle gives them a chance to look at things from a new perspective.

Are the Zygons the first to consider putting people into a painting? Were their Time Lords who enjoyed creating fantasy pictures by inserting things from different time and places into a painting just for the resulting image?

The Zygons do appear to be the first to consider using a painting as a means of suspended animation. PCs might adopt this tactic, especially if they must travel the slow path. They can just hop in a prepared painting and have an ally bring them out at a later date, or they can break out themselves.

The PCs might also use this as a method of dealing with their enemies. It is recommended that living beings should only be transported if they are captured and can be forced to touch the crystal cube.

In this manner the PCs TARDIS will have both an art gallery and a prison, all in one.

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

“Robin Hood laughs in the face of all. Ha, ha, ha!”

promoWhile Doctor Who is able to do many genres comedy is tricky. The episode needs to be funny without parodying the show itself. It has to still feel as if it is part of the same universe as the ‘serious’ episodes.

Luckily Mark Gatiss has done just that with ‘Robot of Sherwood’, probably his best episode to date. The premise of the Doctor meeting and then refusing to accept the existence of Robin Hood is delightful and brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi.

This is a romp in the best possible sense of the word.

Spoilers From Here On In!

The episode begins with Clara already in the TARDIS and the Doctor giving her the choice of where they go next. She decides that she wants to see Robin Hood, despite the protests that he isn’t real and offers up two other possibilities (both of which would have made good stories in themselves).

Unable to dissuade her the Doctor sets course for Sherwood forest, 1190 AD. As luck would have it the TARDIS lands right where Robin Hood happens to be, promptly getting shot by one of his arrows.

This sets the adversarial relationship between the Doctor and Robin Hood. Robin is full of laughter and banter while the Doctor is solemn and no-nonsense. Robin wants to steal the TARDIS and the Doctor is determined to show he has the skills to stop him.

This leads to a fun sword vs spoon duel. It is hard to imagine that this scene would have worked with the 12th Doctors most recent predecessors. The ludicrous of the situation is balanced  by the Doctor’s authority and the flourish in the direction, still managing to make it exciting. It ends with the Doctor knocking Robin into a river only to be pushed in shortly after, Robin literally having the last laugh.

To demonstrate that this isn’t all fun and games we witness the Sheriff of Nottingham’s knights ransacking a peasant village. Ben Stiller brings the right amount of sinister presence and pantomime wickedness as he trades witty one liners before ruthlessly slaughtering an old man, recalling Alan Rickman’s performance in the same role.

Back in Sherwood forest Robin is introducing Clara to his merry men much to her delight while the Doctor pokes and prods them to prove they aren’t real. The Doctor’s increasing frustration, as he is unable to find any evidence that they aren’t who they claim, and Robin and his merry men’s jovial nature works well.

It really feels as if this could be a Robin Hood story which the Doctor has just intruded upon. It helps as well that Clara is clearly having fun, using her knowledge of Robin Hood to name the group and reveal her familiarity with the outlaw and his tales.

This is a good opportunity for Tom Riley, as Robin Hood, to show the depth of the character. For a moment he drops the mask of bravado he wears and shows the loss the character has suffered, losing both his property and his lady love. They might be stories to Clara but for him they are real.

Despite Clara’s warning Robin walks into an obvious trap, entering into an archery competition at Nottingham castle to win a golden arrow. Amusement can be found in the fact that while entering under the name Tom the Tinker Robin is disguising his appearance by just wearing a big hat.

The backdrop of the castle, with its crowd of peasants and the stage where the Sheriff sits upon his throne, helps make this feel like a grand set piece. Without the Doctor on screen this only reinforces that this Robin Hood could make a good series in itself.

Events follow the legends, with Robin splitting the Sheriff’s arrow to prove his worth. Before claiming the golden arrow (and subsequently being unmasked) the Doctor shows up, splitting Robin’s arrow, to claim the prize himself.

The sequence of Robin and the Doctor continuing to split each others arrows in increasingly silly ways (bouncing their shots of the armoured knights) could have been overdone but they are just the right length. Still being amusing up to the point where the Doctor tips his hand by using his sonic screwdriver to blow up the target and the Sheriff has them all imprisoned.

It is here that meaning of the title is revealed, as the Sheriff’s knights turn out to be robots, able to fire laser bolts from their face. Beneath the castle they force toiling peasants to melt down the stolen gold, disintegrating those who exhaust themselves. This is another reminder that there are still high stakes in this story, with peoples lives on the line.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Robin are bickering in their cell, Clara despairing of their antics nearby. Both men clearly think they are the hero of this particular story and resent the presence of the other. Cell scenes are a well worn trope (appearing as recently in Doctor Who as ‘Day Of The Doctor’) but this interplay keeps the scene fresh.

Clara is brought before the Sheriff, exposed as the clear mastermind out of the trio, and cleverly gets the Sheriff to explain what is going on. Apparently he witnessed lights fall out of the sky and the metal engineers who emerged promised him great things in return for his co-operation.

Elsewhere the Doctor and Robin have escaped their cell (after the Doctor has had a chance to humiliate Robin one more time) before they stumble upon the secret spaceship at the heart of the castle.

It would appear that these robots hail from the 29th century but their ship crashed in the past on its way to the promised land. This gives the Doctor to be in his elements as he excitedly prances between the databanks and claims that this proves Robin is artificial, created from the archive of legends to keep the peasants placated.

Robin is out of his league, surrounded by the smooth metal surroundings and flashing lights. That is until the Sheriff and his robots enter with Clara as his hostage. Within moments Robin Hood makes a daring escape into the moat, carrying Clara to safety.

Imprisoned with the peasants beneath the castle the Doctor realises they are using the gold to repair the spaceships engines but if the Sheriff tries to take off it will destroy half the country.

Now it is the Doctor’s turn to provide the peasants with hope. Freed from his bonds by a plucky peasant woman we’d seen captured earlier he uses a gold plate to reflect a robots laser bolt back on itself. Following his lead the rest of the peasants are soon able to destroy their oppressors in a rousing action scene.

When reinforcements arrive, led by the Sheriff, the Doctor confronts them with what he has learnt and only then realises how stupid they’d be to create Robin Hood. Which would mean that he is real after all.

This revelation arrives just in time for Robin Hood to come to his rescue, with Clara in tow. Reflecting the earlier sword fight with the Doctor and borrowing liberally from Errol Flynn’s repertoire the Sheriff and Robin Hood engage in an exciting duel.

An unfortunate edit means that an important plot point about the Sheriff being a robot is lost, with a line of dialogue referencing this fact lost beneath the music. Nonetheless it reaches a satisfying climax suspended above a boiling vat of gold, where Robin uses one of the Doctor’s moves to send the Sheriff to his doom. This nicely shows that the two heroes can learn something from each other.

With the spaceship taking off Robin, the Doctor and Clara have to work together to fire a golden arrow into the vessel so it has enough gold to make it into orbit where it can explode safely. This makes little sense, since the gold arrow is merely on the ships outer shell, but is a good way to demonstrate the theme of the episode that they have to work together.

With the day saved Robin Hood and the Doctor muse upon their nature as legends. Both don’t view themselves as heroes but realise that if they pretend to be then they can inspire others.

These two men, who have been in opposition to each other for so much of the story, shaking hands is nicely poignant. It demonstrates that while there is much fun and laughter that there was still a point to be made. That the events that unfolded mattered within the context of the Doctor Who universe.

Upon seeing the teaser for this episode last week I was worried that this could be a farce. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that the campy tone worked extremely well. It had a sense of fun that the recent BBC Robin Hood series (2006-2009) sorely lacked.

There were parts that were very reminiscent of the 3rd Doctor’s era. From mentions of miniscopes, knights being revealed as robots (as in ‘The Time Warrior’) to the Doctor’s skills with a sword (or spoon in this case) this felt like a story Jon Pertwee would have relished.

Along with these influences it was good to have the references to the history of Doctor Who, such as the reference to Richard the Lionheart which occurred as far back as ‘The Crusade’. It must also be said that the inclusion of Patrick Troughton amongst the database of Robin Hood lore was pleasing.

Very enjoyable, true to the spirit of Doctor Who and with great performances this has been a highlight of the season so far.

Posted in 12th Doctor, First Thoughts, Robot of Sherwood | Leave a comment

“It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes but at last I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going. Home.”

homeSince the release of ‘Doctor Who: Adventures in Space and Time’ those playing have always had to set their campaign pre or post Time War. The default assumption is that you’d play within the current era, with Gallifrey gone and the Time Lord PCs would be the last of their kind (at least until the Classic Who books were released).

With ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ we know that Gallifrey isn’t destroyed, just lost. With that knowledge brings hope and a challenge for the player characters to find it. This will change any campaign set after the events of this episode.

The first thing to consider is how the PCs find out. If they are taking the role of the Doctor then he’ll already know. If they are playing a different Time Lord how do they find out?

The easiest way to do this is have the Doctor tell them. If they have met before he could arrange a meeting or send them a message via the TARDIS. If not the Doctor might cross paths with them and give them the good news.

Now we know what really happened you might find another way to reveal the truth to the PCs. They might return to the constellation of Kasterborous and realise that there should be some physical trace of the destroyed planet amongst the destroyed Dalek ships. They could recover data from a Dalek vessel and find records of the unexpected arrival of 13 versions of the Doctor’s TARDIS moments before Gallifrey vanished.

They could encounter the ‘Gallifrey Falls’ and work out the meaning of its double title. The painting could also act as a way to introduce new Time Lord PCs, who might climb out of it, just as the three Doctors did, in an unseen scene.

Doubtless the return of Gallifrey will be dealt with in the forthcoming series of Doctor Who so you might be cautious about exploring the plot yourself. There are two approaches you can take with this.

Firstly the PCs can be content that the Doctor will find it eventually. They might find clues along the way which they can pass on to him (if he isn’t a main character in your game) or they can just get on with their own adventures they no longer have to worry about being the last of their species.

Secondly this can be an ongoing quest that won’t reach a conclusion (at least until it happens in the series). Plenty of television series have open ended quests where we know the characters aren’t going to achieve their goal. ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, ‘Sliders’ and ‘Quantum Leap’ are all prime examples of this.

Players must be willing to go along with this format, knowing that their quest to find Gallifrey is just a framing device to have them have exciting adventures each week. For a sense of progression they might still find clues that seem to bring them closer.

If you are not concerned with eventually contradicting the television series (or ret-conning what you have already revealed) then you can have an end goal in sight. The PCs can be responsible for finding and freeing Gallifrey.

Just what can PCs do to try and find Gallifrey? All we know is that while there is a painting that is linked to the final day of the Time War the planet itself is said to be lost in parallel pocket universe.

Therefore they must either search for a link to that pocket universe in our universe or shift through countless other dimensions, until they find the one that holds their world. Either method has massive scope and potentially take them into uncharted waters.

They might try to expand their knowledge of stasis cube technology. If other people and places and be put in pocket dimensions if the PCs can find those then it can give them valuable information about where Gallifrey might have gone.

Things might have been placed into pocket dimensions for safety but they might also be put there as a means of confinement, like the phantom zone from Superman. In which case the PCs might accidentally release something dangerous.

They shouldn’t hope for any help from Gallifrey itself as it is said to be frozen in time. You might be lenient and have it broadcast a signal or provide some other indicator that can be used to track it.

If the PCs are able to find Gallifrey what then? We saw how disastrous releasing the planet near Earth was in ‘The End of Time’ but can the PCs find an empty region of space to put it. Will they be able to clear the debris from Kasterborous so it can take back its rightful place or is there a better location?

If the Time Lords are returned to the universe what is to prevent the Time War starting again (since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ indicates they still have a sizeable fleet)? It could be up to the PCs to give them the leadership they need (or persuade the Doctor to become president again).

The Doctor’s dream at the end of ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ suggests that returning to Gallifrey is in his future. Will a Time Lord PC also return home and will that signal the end of his adventures?

This is something that characters can think about before Gallifrey is restored. What will it mean to them? Are there people they are hoping to see again? Will they settle down or do they think they’ll continue to explore the universe but maybe on behalf of their people.

These thoughts might encourage them to prepare the rest of the universe to the eventual return of the Time Lords. They could also make an effort to ensure that they can show their people that they’ve done a good job of protecting time while they were away.

Regardless of the approach you take this is an exciting new era for games to take place in. One in which the lost might eventually be found.

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

“Clara, be my pal. Tell me, am I a good man?”

goodmanInto the Dalek’, written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat, continues to explore the nature of the 12th Doctor via his enemies. In this case the story revolves around whether the fundamental nature of a Dalek can be changed. Can they be good?

It is a dark, brutal story in which people die and there is a pervading sense of futility. This ensures that it is a tense, exciting tale that shows once again why the Daleks are one of the greatest foes within the series.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN!

The story starts with a shot not unlike that of ‘Star Wars’ with a tiny rebel ship fleeing a huge Dalek ship. The Doctor saves the pilot, Journey Blue, but not her brother. He makes no apology for this, telling her to stop crying and thank him.

This establishes, for this story at least, that this Doctor doesn’t mourn the deaths of those he can’t help. He is done dwelling on what more he could have done and expects people to be thankful for what he did do. He is practical and cold.

Taking Journey Blue to her hidden rebel ship  (after she says please) the Doctor is introduced to the rebels prisoner, a Dalek. The twist being that this Dalek is so damaged that it apparently become good.

The central concept of the episode is one that the series has explored time and time again, dating right back to ‘The Power of the Daleks’. ‘Dalek’ explored the notion that they could rebel against their own nature and ‘Victory of Daleks’ had them act as eager to please servants until the Doctor revealed it was just a ruse. The excellent 8th Doctor audio ‘Dark Eyes’ also has an extended sequence that explores this wonderfully.

The Doctor’s need to discover if there can truly be a good Dalek stems from his own doubts about his current nature. Picking Clara up from Coal Hill school he asks whether she thinks he is good, only for her to be unable to give him a definitive answer. The real question being whether he’d still have helped the Dalek if she’d been able to give him an answer.

In a plot development that they acknowledge is taken from ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (in itself already referenced in ‘The Invisible Enemy’) the Doctor, Clara, Journey and two other soldiers (Gretchen and Ross) are shrunk down and injected into the Dalek (the title isn’t a metaphor, you see).

Their transition through the blue membrane of the eye stalk is wonderfully trippy. It is only a shame that despite the Doctor’s assurance, we see nothing further within the Dalek that rivals this visual.

Being inside a Dalek is no less dangerous than being outside of one, as Ross soon learns. Having accidentally damaged the interior he is swarmed by floating antibodies (similar to the security drones in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’).

This allows another demonstration of the Doctor’s nature. He throws a pill to Ross to swallow, who clearly hopes that this will save him. Instead he is disintegrated and the Doctor reveals that the pill he swallowed was radioactive and they can now track where his remains would be taken. The Doctor never intended to save him and instead uses the mans death to benefit himself.

The others confront the Doctor with this, as they subsequently find themselves in a chamber filled with liquidised dead. He makes jokes and tells them how the deaths of these people is a good thing (for them). For him so many people have died that one more doesn’t affect him.

Finding that the Daleks altered morality is due to a radiation leak the Doctor undoes the damage while the Dalek, now nicknamed Rusty, explains how seeing a star being born made it realise that for all the death his race has caused life would continue to be created. It was futile to resist life.

With the damage undone the Dalek reverts to its true nature, breaking free. Exterminating rebels it signals the Dalek mothership, revealing the location of the rebels. Once again the hopes of the Doctor have been dashed, the Daleks will always be evil.

Except Clara disagrees, slapping the Doctor for giving up hope. As the Daleks storm the rebels ship, exterminating everything in their path the Doctor and his companions make a perilous journey to reignite the spark that inspired Rusty to change sides.

This requires the sacrifice of Gretchen, something she does on the condition that something good come from her death. Tellingly this time the Doctor can’t bear to stay to watch her die.

The ill-fated Gretchen finds herself in heaven, greeted by Missy. In combination with the fate of the Half Face Man from ‘Deep Breath’ this further deepens the mystery of what is happening here. Is Missy collecting everyone that the Doctor is directly or indirectly responsible for killing?

With a plan made up on the fly Clara is able to successfully reactive the repressed memories from Rusty’s databanks as the Doctor gets up close and personal with the mutant, sharing his mind.

He hopes to show it the beauty of the universe but instead it hones in on his unending hatred for the Daleks. Influenced by the Time Lord it goes on a rampage, wiping out the invading Dalek horde.

The rebels have been saved but the Doctor isn’t happy, much to Rusty’s confusion. It looked within the Doctor and all it saw was hatred. This began with the Doctor trying to discover what type of man he is and he isn’t happy with the answer.

Despondent the Doctor returns Clara to Coal Hill school, 30 seconds after she left. Before she leaves she says that she doesn’t know if the Doctor is a good man, but that he tries and that is probably the point.

The message is that the Doctor isn’t perfect. There are many things that he does that could be considered bad and there are obviously great darkness within him him but unlike a Dalek he can decide for himself what he wants to be.

Capaldi and Coleman continue to impress. Peter Capaldi has the difficult job of having the Doctor being outright unlikeable in scenes but still shows his vulnerability (biting his thumb nervously as Gretchen asks him to justify her death) and Jenna Coleman bring patience and understanding to the role of Clara.

The supporting cast are also excellent. Zawe Ashton as Journey Blue takes us on an emotional rollercoaster, as her character looses a brother and is given no time to mourn before she is thrown into a dangerous mission in which her fellow soldiers are slain before her. At the climax she has to defy orders and put her faith in the unstable and callous Doctor.

It is shame that the Doctor doesn’t agree to take her with him at the end, based entirely on the fact that he wish she hadn’t been a soldier. The fact that Journey Blue is a rebel would suggest that she had no choice. It was either that or be a slave to the Daleks. Once again this Doctor decides what’s best for himself and not others.

The other actors playing soldiers are equally good. Colonel Morgan Blue, played by Michael Smiley, has ruthlessness to rival that of Capaldi’s Doctor. Ben Crompton as Ross and Laura dos Santos as Gretchen are minor characters but have enough of a presence that their characters deaths feel like they mean something.

This story introduces Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson, an ex-soldier and new teacher at Coal Hill school. He is an intriguing character, obviously tormented by his actions as soldier, shedding a tear when questioned if he had killed anyone who wasn’t a soldier.

I enjoyed the cutting back and fore between past and present as Danny beats himself up about what he should have said to Clara. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if he joins the TARDIS crew and actually does have the ability to revisit the past.

His introduction fits the larger theme of soldiers within the episode and that fact that Clara chooses him, knowing full well that the Doctor would reject him because of his background. It is only unfortunate that after an exciting start to the episode these sequences at Coal Hill school are rather slow, draining the momentum.

There were some problems with the episode. The central premise, that the Dalek was good, wasn’t really established for me. It still wanted to kill, just members of its own race. Even if they had established that it was good there was little they could do with it and even the knowledge that Daleks could be swayed wouldn’t do the rebels a lot of good in the short term.

Overall this was strong episode of self-examination. While there wasn’t much new introduced to the mythology of the Daleks they were well served in the story. The most important element introduced being that the Doctor began to define himself as an antithesis to them following their first encounter on Skaro.

I’m glad that this season hasn’t gone for any easy answers. The Doctor shouldn’t be perfect. A flawed character is much more interesting and makes the challenges he faces more real.

Is the Doctor a good man? We’ll have to see.

Posted in 12th Doctor, First Thoughts, Into The Dalek | Leave a comment

“You might say I’ve been doing this all my lives.”

allmylifeThe exciting climax of ‘The Day of The Doctor’ sees the Doctor recruiting his past and future incarnations in an effort to save Gallifrey. This continues the theme throughout the episode of planting a seed in the Doctor’s past so that it can reach its conclusion in the 11th Doctor’s present.

This time it is performing the calculations need to preserve the entire planet, which begins with the 1st Doctor. Not only are they doing the calculations but all 13th TARDISes are shown flying around the planet.

Such a gathering must be an extreme rare occurrence, if not unique. The laws of time would normally prohibit this but it must be more than that as since it is possible why did the Time Lords, in the midst of the Time War, not do something similar since it could potentially increase their forces by a factor of 12?

The obvious answer is that bringing your past incarnations into the conflict is a bad idea, since if they die you’ll die as well. It would also be disheartening for a Time Lord to try and recruit his future incarnations only to find he has none (since he is going to die in the war).

It could be that the Doctor is the first Time Lord to think of doing this. It could be such a social taboo, as dangerous, that no one has ever contemplated passing information back along their own timeline or tried recruiting their other selves.

The Doctors conversation in the Tower of London indicates that having the same Time Lord in close proximity runs the risk of a nasty paradox. From ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ we know that a paradox can be physically destructive to the surrounding area.

Having each Doctor in their respective TARDISes could reduce that potential for paradox. While the TARDIS has shown a reluctance to be near itself the distances shown here could be far enough apart to allow them to co-operate.

The Five Doctors’ show an example of how trying to have the same Time Lord in the same place can lead to destabilisation. If not for the efforts of Gallifrey the Doctor could have faded away completely.

The fact that the Doctor’s time stream is already in flux helps makes this possible, maybe in conjunction with the Moment. The 7th Doctor mentions crossing the boundaries that divide one universe from another so they might be slightly out of phases with each other.

In any case once the Doctor’s return to their proper place in their own time stream in all likelihood they would forget what had transpired. This is important to preserve their own personal history.

This still leaves how they were recruited by the other Doctors. This is something that can be used as a framework for a series of linked adventures featuring all the previous Doctors. Like the comic ‘Prisoners of Time’ each adventure could be a different Doctor and their own adventure, ending with them being contacted. Instead you might focus on the War Doctor, 10th and 11th Doctor seeking out their earlier versions.

Just how would the previous Doctors react to their future selves asking them to do something so dangerous? How would they feel about saving Gallifrey?

The 1st and 2nd Doctor were on the run from their own people. What could their future incarnations say to convince them to now help them? How would the 9th Doctor react to learning that there was a chance to undo the destruction of his world, since that guilt still burnt within him?

There is also a question of at what point in their personal timelines they are recruited. Since the 3rd Doctor is able to fly his TARDIS this must be at some point after ‘The Three Doctors’.

Someone must have given the 1st Doctor some guidance as he was never able to fly the TARDIS with such a degree of finesse (and the 2nd Doctor struggled on occasion). It could be that by linking minds they improved their piloting skills or that one of the other Doctors is remotely flying them.

The fact that the 7th Doctor changes back and fore between clips from the television series and the tv movie is either something we should overlook as the viewer or evidence that the Doctors were experience a collapse of the time differential.

The lack of companions in the images shown could indicate either that they are in another part of the TARDIS or they were left somewhere safe (after all, no need to drag them into the Time War as well). Still, it is a shame that the 4th Doctor didn’t have Romana aiding him. Her skills with the TARDIS could have come in very handy.

It is possible that the various Doctors met beforehand to discuss their plan. This could be the misty world that Clara finds herself in at the end of ‘The Name of The Doctor’. The 11th Doctor might just have mistaken them for ghosts, when in fact this was an event in his future and the previous versions were just trying to get away before he arrived and learnt too much about what was in store for him.

We don’t see the end of this assembly of Doctors either. The War Doctor, 10th and 11th Doctor are allowed their goodbyes and hints at the future. It could be that before this scene the other Doctors were present, each leaving one by one.

What would the Doctors ask about their future and what would they tell their past selves? What would they want to say to say to earlier incarnations now they have the chance? Which incarnation is each Doctor’s favourite?

You could use this rare occurrence to fit in more multi-Doctor adventures. It could be that they were dealing with something very important when they were called away and in return for helping their future selves they might want them to return the favour.

There could also be complications with each Doctor returning to their time streams. Different incarnations might end up going on an adventure together before they return home or one or more could simply go missing, forcing the others to go looking for them.

While this all centres on the Doctor and should not be an option for other Time Lord PCs you might allow them one very special occasion to do something similar. This is best done when you at least have an idea about what form each of their incarnations take.

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“He trusted you. Are you judging him?”

deepbreathDeep Breath’, written by Steven Moffat, tackles the tricky post-regeneration story by focusing on both Clara and the Doctor attempting to understand who this new incarnation is.

Madame Vestra, Jenny and Strax are on hand to aide the transition with a Victorian adventure involving lost dinosaurs, clockwork robots and an intriguing setup for the rest of this series.

While I found some of the comedy moments misplaced (particularly a jarring cartoon sound effect) there is plenty of magic to be found in the new relationship between Clara and the Doctor, with some very creepy moments.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN!

We’d long suspected that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor would be dark (if based on nothing more than those glaring eyes in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’). His initial scenes, confused and disoriented, had an edge of menace as he fails to recognise his friends recalling Colin Baker’s first scenes in ‘The Twin Dilemma’.

This establishes Clara’s own dilemma throughout the episode. She doesn’t know who this man is and, despite the reassurance of the Paternoster Gang, can’t accept that he is the Doctor.

The audience goes through the same process whenever a new actor steps into the role of the Doctor. Will we like them and by extension the show? Can they be different but still be the Doctor?

The new Doctor is put through his paces as the dinosaur he accidentally brought to Victorian London is burnt alive and the race is on to discover the culprit. During these early scenes the two time travellers are mostly separated, as the Doctor plunges into the Thames to solve the mystery on his own.

We see something of the Doctors turmoil, grappling to accept his new features. The fact that he won’t let a poor tramp go while he rants shows that he still dependent on having a companion to listen to him. We also see a ruthless streak that’ll resurface later as he demands the tramp give him his coat. He knows that whoever is without the coat will be cold but he doesn’t see why that person should have to be him.

Meanwhile Clara is interrogated by Vastra, where the Silurian accuses Clara of judging by appearances. Jenna Coleman plays the scene well, putting fire into her performance as she defends herself and points out Vastra’s own hypocrisy.

By the time the Doctor and Clara are reunited at the restaurant Mancinis they have more confidence in their own identity to stand their ground, airing their grievances with each other and both accusing the other of being egotistical.

This humorous scene neatly becomes very creepy when the penny drops and they both realise that neither of them sent the invitation that led them to the restaurant. The other diners are flesh covered robots, blocking their every move to escape on the chess board floor.

Beneath the facade of the restaurant is a crashed spaceship, containing the clockwork robots from ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’ (which the Doctor continually fails to recall). There are real elements of body horror here as it is revealed that they’ve spent centuries killing others for replacement parts.

Just when Clara needs the Doctor most, he abandons her, reasoning that there is no reason they should both be captured. Here we are introduced to another monster who has a rule you must follow in order to survive (much as not blinking will protect you from a Weeping Angel), namely that by not breathing you can fool the robots into thinking you are one of them.

This leads to an incredibly tense sequence in which Clara takes the titular deep breath and attempts to make her way past numerous flesh covered robots. She doesn’t make it and is soon dragged before their leader, the Half-Face Man (played by Peter Ferdinado).

The interrogation is a highlight of the episode. You can see the Half-Face Man calculating his next move even without the visual of the clockwork computer in his skull. Clara is terrified but uses her own experience dealing with an unruly class (an indicator that her home life isn’t perfect) to undermine the villain and extract valuable information.

Just as she proves how vital she is to the Doctor he rewards her faith by revealing he’d been with her the whole time, disguised as one of the robots. The fact that he had willingly worn the face stolen from another man speaks volumes about the lengths he will go to.

The Paternoster Gang (literally) drop in to save the time travellers, which the Half-Face Man makes a quick exit, only to find that the Doctor has followed him for the final showdown.

Here we see the personality of this new Doctor, finally stabilised. Capaldi is riveting, filled with anger, rage and a dread at what he has become. He knows that it has to end in the villains death but it is not something he relishes.

This scene sums up the crisis of the Doctor, as he uses the analogue of replacing the brush and handle of a broom so many times it is no longer the same broom and realises that it applies equally to him as it does the droid.

They are both the same but different, as the droid finds the big picture beautiful (as they float above London in a balloon made of skin) while the Doctor finds the beauty in the detail, the people.

It is deliberately left unclear whether the droid jumped (sparing Clara and the others from a gory death) or whether he was pushed. The steely visage of the Doctor gives nothing away.

With the menace averted Clara’s joy is shattered when she finds that the Doctor has left without her. There is still uncertainty in their relationship and it feels like he could leave her. After all she would be in safe hands of the Paternoster Gang and it wouldn’t be the first time the Doctor has abandoned a companion.

Thankfully the Doctor does return, in his new costume and redecorated TARDIS. Taking her back to the modern day Clara is still unable to reconcile her memory of her Doctor and this new version. That is until she receives a phone call from the 11th Doctor.

This delightful and emotional cameo from Matt Smith helps ease the transition. Both versions of the Doctor are worried about who this new incarnation is. The 11th Doctor, Clara’s friend, asks her to look after this new Doctor because he knows he will be scared.

Their relationship has changed and both are still trying to establish who and what they mean to each other. For the moment Clara will help the Doctor find that out in the memory of the man he was.

This reminds us that while this is a new chapter it is still part of a larger story. Dangling plot elements from the past are yet to be resolved, such as who gave Clara the Doctors number and who put the ad in the paper that drew them to the restaurant.

Part of this is hinted at as we find the Half-Face Man awakening in the promised land of Paradise that he hoped to reach, greeted by the mysterious Missy (played by Michelle Gomez).

This sinister, vaguely Mary Poppins-esque, character claims the Doctor is her boyfriend (shades of River Song) but there is something very unsettling about her introducing a villain into what she claims is heaven. This is an intriguing mystery to explore in the coming season.

There are missteps along the way (primarily early cartoonish comedy) and some scenes that could have been trimmed or removed (such as Strax’s medical exam whose purpose only seems to be to setup a similar examination at the restaurant).

While the Paternoster Gang might be overstaying their welcome, particularly when they belittle Clara or seem more familiar with the Doctor than the viewer, they have enough redeeming features to justify their presence.

Peter Capaldi does a great job in the role. He makes this Doctor his own (although I frequently saw traces of the 6th Doctor in the characterisation). We feel his compassion and guilt when the dinosaur dies. We see his intelligence, anger and darkness but also his vulnerability.

This was also a much stronger episode for Jenna Coleman and I liked this version of Clara more. She felt more fleshed out and realistic. Clara is stronger and can now take more of a lead in her relationship with the Doctor.

Moffat keeps the plot moving and is still able to juggle tonal shifts. While drawing heavily on elements from the past it still feels exciting. The strongest part of this is the uncertainty.

This Doctor is still unpredictable. That makes me want to see what happens next week even more.

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

“You were just talking to me, I know. I’m a time traveller, figure it out.”

figureitoutThe Doctors need to get in the Black Archive but it is TARDIS proof. How do they do it? In ‘The Day of the Doctor’ the War Doctor realises they don’t actually need to land. They just need the ‘Gallifrey Falls’ painting to be in there so they can emerge from it, just as the Zygons did in the National Gallery.

In order to make sure that it is there they contact McGilliop by telephone and ask him to move it there, an example of the Doctor crossing over his own timeline.

Time travel fiction frequently does this, showing an event and then revealing that it was the characters future self that was responsible. The film ‘Time Crimes’ is probably the best example of this.

Doctor Who does it much less frequently. ‘The Big Bang’ has the most examples, with the future Doctor engineering his own escape from the Pandorica and again crossing his own path later so he can pretend to die and get into the Pandorica again when everyone is distracted. This was shown to be a special situation due to the collapse of time.

It could be that the presence of three Doctors created similar conditions but such actions are probably achievable normally.

The important thing is why the Doctor does it. He has no other option but to go back in time. Similarly PCs should only resort to this use of time travel if they simply run out of time in the ‘present’.

For example the PCs might have tried their best to counter a threat (and may have succeeded in stopping part of it) only to find out there was something they didn’t know about or that the there is a backup plan. They will not now have time to prevent the threat from happening.

Note that the Doctor didn’t change anything by his actions. We had already seen the phone conversation earlier in the episode. Everything that we saw happened still happened the same way. We just didn’t know that some time between that conversation and the Zygon attack McGilliop arranged for the transport of ‘Gallifrey Falls’.

If you do allow this type of action in your own adventures it should only be possible if the PCs don’t affect their own past or present. They can only use it to prevent something that happened, not change it.

The Doctors have the advantage of already being in their TARDIS when they decide they need to travel into the past (before the countdown reaches 0). If the PCs aren’t in their own time machine they will need to race to get there before the event they are trying to prevent occurs (or at least ensure they don’t know that it has happened).

This condition can require them to use stealth and can lead to amusing incidents where they are trying to keep outside the awareness of their previous incarnations. This is best done if they are interacting events that previous happened off screen. As long as nothing happens to contradict anything that happened on screen then the plot will still make sense.

In this way the PCs can revisit the events of the same adventure. To those around them the time travellers appear as if they are in multiple places at once. ‘Back To The Future 2’ has some good examples of how to revisit the same story but from a new perspective.

The PCs might be revealed to be responsible for things they experienced the first time round. The person an NPC is speaking to on the phone is their future selves, they are responsible for parking a car across a road to prevent the bad guys escaping or they are the ones who will sabotage the aliens doomsday weapon.

PCs could spend plot point to make this happen, making a note that they need to ensure this happens by travelling into their past. Taking to far and this could turn into the farce of ‘Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death’.

Such occurrences could arise naturally during play, with coincidence or luck affecting the narrative. The PCs don’t need to make sure they happen but if they find themselves in the past they could be revealed as being the source. The games master might even give a plot point reward for help close these plot holes.

When things go wrong the PCs might change their own past, or worse meet their earlier incarnations. There are ways around this, for example allowing history to be re-written, having one incarnation vanish (as in ‘Father’s Day’) or simply having the incarnations forget the encounter.

Something to avoid is the PCs creating a paradox. That is they shouldn’t bring something into the past to give to their earlier incarnations to eventually bring back into the past to give their younger self, whether that something be information or an item. In both cases it comes from nothing, existing only because of the loop.

Things get very complex when this type of time travel is used, which can be part of the fun. Care should be taken to make sure everyone keeps track of where various incarnations are and what actually happened.

What it can do is to give an adventure more scope. Rather than just one run through the PCs have to make two or more passes to ensure that everything is resolved to their satisfaction. Only a time traveller could achieve what they’ve done. This can make an adventure and their actions in it all the more special.

You don’t need to do this immediately either. You might return to the same adventure much later, revealing that there was a whole other side that they didn’t know about until know.

While this can complicate things further, as the players might not have  clear memory of what happened the first time, it could be an excuse to revisit earlier versions of a character, especially if the Time Lord PC has already regenerated.

For a good Doctor Who example of the Doctor crossing his own timeline read ‘The Festival of Death’. The audio ‘Flip Flop’ explores a similar idea with its own twist with the 7th Doctor experiencing events he has put in motion, although not the way you would think.

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“The Black Archive. Highest security rating on the planet.”

vortexThe Black Archive, shown for the first time in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’, is mentioned on page 24 of ‘Defending The Earth: The UNIT sourcebook’. There it says it is situated at an undisclosed location in Central London. We now know that it is beneath the Tower of London.

A single security guard waits at the end of the tunnel to let visitors in but there could be more security checkpoints that we don’t see. It uses a lock and key rather than electronics, designed to keep the Doctor out (presumably to prevent the use of his sonic screwdriver).

The staff has their memories wiped at the end of every shift, so that a security guard that has worked there for 10 years believes that it is his first day. This is said to be done through a memory filter, implying that only specific memories are removed (so that they can continue to have private lives without fear of erasure).

This would only make sense if it is done to the staff responsible for protecting and maintaining the Black Archive, rather than UNIT scientists who come to study the devices stored there. Otherwise UNIT would never know what was stored there or be able to make any progress in studying the alien technology.

A key plot point is that the whole of the Tower of London (and not just the Black Archive) is TARDIS proof. The Doctor says that this is possible with alien technology and human stupidity.

This raises the possibility of other locations being impossible for a TARDIS to land in, not just on Earth but elsewhere in the universe. The perfect excuses to prevent players short circuiting the plot by simply materialising the TARDIS where you don’t want them to go.

The big question is how it does this. How do you stop the TARDIS from emerging from the vortex in a specific location? There must be some way to manipulate space-time or possibly find a way to make them a fixed point where the TARDIS didn’t appear.

Much of their security is to prevent the Doctor finding out about the Black Archive and getting in. Kate Stewart believes that the Doctor would not approve of their collection. Yet he is aware of certain things they do have, such as the Vortex manipulator and the Space-Time telegraph. All three incarnations of the Doctor (the War Doctor, 10th and 11th) confirm as much when Clara mentions it.

Either the Doctor isn’t as against UNIT having alien technology as they thought or they have something that he doesn’t know about that would make him very unhappy. What could be worse that the weapons of mass destruction and time travel device they already have?

Buried 20 feet beneath the Black Archive is a nuclear warhead, powerful enough to destroy the Archive, its contents and London. It was to be activated in the case of an alien incursion. Kate seems to do this manually but there maybe a way to do this remotely. It is unknown whether the 5 minute countdown is a default or if the time can be changed.

The contents of Archive are considered to be so dangerous with a Zygon estimating that with its contents they could conquer the world in a day. This gives us an idea of how powerful these items are, although UNIT scientists might not yet know how to operate them all.

Amongst their collection they do have some rather mundane items such as River Song’s shoes and Amy Pond’s windmill toy. It is hard to know why these would deem important enough to be placed in the Black Archive (or how they obtained footwear from the future).

The Vortex Manipulator is given as an example of something that not even their allies can know they have. It is unclear if Kate is talking about allies of UNIT or allies of Britain. They fear that if America got hold the Vortex Manipulator they would alter history (the implication being they would make themselves responsible for every great deed).

Since we know that there is an American branch of UNIT it is conceivable that the UK branch is keeping information from the rest of the organisation. One has to wonder what the consequences would be if they found out.

When Torchwood existed how did the two organisations deal with their shared desire to collect alien technology? Torchwood was dedicated to protecting the country but UNIT has a responsibility to the world. This could lead to some conflict between the two organisations which could be explored in an adventure.

Following the Battle of Canary Wharf did UNIT recover Torchwoods collection for the Black Archive? This could result in several UNIT themed adventures with PCs despatched to recover technology from other shutdown Torchwood facilities.

The Black Archive can be used in a variety of ways in your campaign. It can simply be a safe place for alien technology to go at the end of an adventure. The PCs can leave it to UNIT to clean up after them.

It can serve as a resource. If the PCs are in 21st century London and need some heavy fire power or advanced technology to take down the enemy they could requisition it from the Black Archive. UNIT may require a favour in return.

The PCs could work for the Black Archive, either as part of UNIT or freelance. They could be tasked with obtaining an alien artefact and ensuring it is safely transported to the Black Archive or they could be called in to study an new acquisition.

They could find themselves in opposition to the Black Archive, if they have alien technology that the PCs feel they shouldn’t have. This can lead to an elaborate heist as they try to overcome its security.

Enemy forces (alien or otherwise) could target the Black Archive. If they can get in and disable the nuclear warhead the whole world could be at stake. Are the PCs trapped on the inside or are they inside when the facility is captured?

In a worst case scenario the Black Archive could be haven or an ideal place to make a last stand if the city is overrun. The PCs would have to quickly work out what the technology does in order to defend themselves and possible repel the threat.

The destruction of the Black Archive (and London with it) can be a good way to establish how dire things are in a dystopian future. A massive crater, surrounded by ash and ruin, is a stark image. Can the PCs prevent this from happening?

The existence of the Black Archive can be something that the PCs discover during an adventure or something they retro-actively knew about. They might also find that they’ve been there before but had their memory filtered.

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“It’s funny, isn’t it? If I’m Zygon then my clothes must be Zygon to, so what happens if I loose a shoe or something?”

whoiswhoIn ‘The Day of The Doctor’ the Zygons and the humans they are impersonating can’t remember who is the original and who is the copy. This isn’t the first time that ‘Doctor Who’ has explored the concept.

Most notably ‘The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People’ revealed that the Doctor and his ganger had swapped places, to test how others reacted. That same story also revealed that Amy was actually a ganger (although one remotely controlled by the real Amy).

Rory struggled with his identity in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ when he was resurrected as an auton. Despite his best efforts he was unable to prevent himself from shooting Amy. Not dissimilar to how some of the Cylon sleeper agents in the new ‘Battlestar Galatica’ were unable to fight their own programming.

These uses of identity work for the viewer because we are an observer. We aren’t in those character’s shoes and we can be tricked by appearances. Would we feel the same if we were inside their head?

In a roleplaying game a player assumes the role of a character. Their expectation is that they know who that character is. That they have all the knowledge that their character does in order to make informed decisions.

Revealing that they aren’t who they thought they were can have even more of an impact but must be treated carefully. The last thing you want is for the player to feel like they’ve been tricked.

This works best where their double doesn’t know they aren’t real. In this scenario the player shouldn’t be playing their character any differently than normal. When the truth is reveal the player and their character should be shocked.

If the double is a sleeper agent they might act completely normal until a key moment, in which case the games master takes over as it is unfair to expect a player to do something they disagree with. The player could resume control of their original character or they might take back control of the shape shifter once the personality they are copying returns.

The double might be just very good at impersonating others, while still retaining their own mind. In which case having a player take that role demonstrates just how good the double is. This is where players can feel they’ve been betrayed and that they’ve put others in danger because of information they didn’t have.

It is important to think about what your purpose was in having a player take the role of a double.

In ‘The Day of The Doctor’ it is about putting a character in the position of another,  because they don’t know who they are. They must believe that their double (whether it is the original or the copy) feels and thinks the same way.

This can give players a greater appreciation of those that they face. They might be alien but they are people (‘different casing, same software’). Going forward this might alter how they deal with others (looking for peaceful solutions rather than resorting to violence).

In ‘The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People’ it is about how people react to the double. What does it feel like to be treated differently because you’re an alien, synthetic or copy even if  you are? What does it feel like to treat someone else like that, even if they’re not?

This can challenge preconceptions. It can make a player character (and the player) realise that they do judge people on what they are, rather than who. It could also make them realise the hostility that their enemies usually feel.

The Pandorica Opens’ uses the change in identity for the purposes of horror. Rory is trapped in a nightmarish situation where he knows that he will kill the woman he loves and there is nothing he can do about it.

This can be a tense situation to put the player characters. If they know they will hurt others or do something that is repellent what will they do to stop themselves? Do they believe they have the willpower to overcome their programming or will they try to destroy themselves? Will their true nature let them?

Having a double assume the personality of the player character can be a tale of redemption. Could their influence change the double for the better, dissuading them from their evil plan or letting them overcome their instincts?

You should think at what point does the player assume control of the double. If your adventure starts in medias res, with the switch already taking place. By closing over the point at which the double began thinking they were the original you keep it hidden for the players.

The change might happen at some point during the adventure. This is more likely to catch the player by surprise. You just need to find a point for the switch to happen, such as between scenes.

If the player characters are already aware that doubles are involved in an adventure then the switch could happen when there is some confusion. Whether it be a temporary memory wipe or a blackout, you open up the possibility that characters have switched places and even the players can’t be sure who they are. This can increase the level of paranoia if the doubles have been shown to be hostile in intent.

Players will want to resume control of their original player character going forward. This is usually a good idea, unless you want to have something really shocking like killing the original and having the double continue in their place (which works best if there is very little difference between the two).

You should think about what happens to the double, which will primarily be determined by the players actions. Is their double destroyed, left behind to live in peace or could it join them in their travels?

You could leave their fate more open ended, so that the player characters don’t know what happened to them. They could return in the future (maybe the PCs hear about things they’ve done but don’t remember and have to wonder if their double or something they’ll do in their future) or act a replacement should a character die (always good to have a spare copy around).

At the end of the adventure the player might still not know if they are now playing the original player character or their double. This question of identity could be an ongoing character arc.

There are plenty of alien races that this would work with. Zygons are the obvious inspiration but also autons, faceless ones, Sontarran clones, Rutans, gangers. You can also create a new species or automaton capable of copying others.

Surprising players by having them take the role of doubles can be powerful but must be used sparingly. More than once and players will constantly be questioning just who it is they are playing.

Posted in 11th Doctor, day of the doctor, The Almost People, The Rebel Flesh | Leave a comment