“Doctor, listen to me! Everything that ever hated you is coming here tonight.”

DW10_059 New Monsters.inddIn Doctor Who’s long history there have been many monsters and aliens but only a few make it big. Only a few repeatedly return to menace the Doctor. Only a few are as recognisable as the main character or the TARDIS.

While there is certainly a thrill the be had by having player characters match wits with the big names it would be a shame to restrict yourself to such a narrow portion of 50 years worth of fiction.

This is a look at just a few of the aliens and monsters that deserve a chance to shine in your campaign.

The Voord

Mysterious humaniods from ‘The Keys of Marinus’. Combining elements of the Cybermen with an aquatic angle. They are perfect for an underwater invasion on Earth or other planets with oceans.

Capable of telepathy and mind control it is entirely possible that they could turn any one into their puppet. Even one of the player characters might be an unwitting sleeper agent for the Voord.

Their black wetsuits are visually striking and would help camouflage them in low-light settings. The biggest mystery their suits hold is what they look like within.

You might consider having the Voord arrange an alliance with the Sea Devils or the Zygons. Together they could attack shipping lanes or rise up to strike against the surface world.

Tractator

Hampered by a costume that restricted movement these aliens could be much more effective in your own campaign. Resembling giant wood lice they had the power to control gravity and their invasion of Trion was so terrifying that Turlough experienced nightmarish racial memories.

The Tractator believed their reputation was such that the Time Lords would be seeking them out. While the series didn’t really support that idea they can live up to their potential in your own campaign.

Burrowing underground player characters will have to cope with darkness and tight confines in order to deal with them. Worse still the Tractator can usse their powers to drag other into the ground, suffocating them.

They could prove to be a threat for spaceships, causing them to crash on to any planet the Tractator occupied. Potentially they could use the same tactics as the bugs in ‘Starship Troopers’, using their gravitational powers to hurl meteors at planets.

A grizzly idea all but edited out of ‘Frontios’ was that the Tractator created organic machines from the body parts of their victims. This is an idea you can introduce into your own campaign if the players have strong stomachs. It would certainly make them more memorable and give the PCs more of an incentive not to be captured.

Usurians

A race of sentient seaweed who conquer worlds through economics. In ‘The Sun Makers’ we learn they have transformed Pluto into a planet capable of support human life, at the cost of placing the population into eternal debt.

Their power seems to exceed even the Time Lords, with their survey of Gallifrey deeming it unworthy of development. While the Doctor is quite dismissive of the The Collector this is surely a race that deserves to be developed and explored.

There must be many other worlds like Pluto that the PCs can discover. Freeing a planet from a covert economic enslavement is a lot more tricky than tackling an invading army. In this scenario the population might not be aware of their predicament and be more interested in protecting their jobs than being free.

Planets, empires and corporations could all be controlled by the Usurians. The PCs might have to follow the money to track down these aliens, damaging their profits along the way until they can finally put them out of business.

Androgum

A bestial, emotionally volatile race with no ethical problem with eating sentient species. ‘The Two Doctors’ illustrated that a single Androgum can leave death and chaos in its wake. The Androgum could be used in an adventure based around a string of killings, with the PCs learning that the culprit is an Androgum experiencing the local tastes.

The Doctor commented that an Androgum with a Time Lord physiology and access to time travel would have no limit on the evil they could produce. Their threat level could be increased by any amount of ‘uplifting’ performed by another species.

This allows the species to be used on two different levels. On the most basic level they are killers but they become expediential more dangerous depending on what technology they obtain or how their genetic makeup is changed.

PCs should fear more intelligent Androgum, especially those who have the capability to travel to other worlds. Even if the PCs aren’t willing to kill such Androgum they must must find ways to restrict their movements and return them to how they were supposed to be.

The Faceless Ones

Shape changers driven by the destruction of their own identities they are both tragic and terrifying.  They are even more relevant in an age where ‘identity theft’ is a danger than many people face.

The abstract nature of their predicament, that their identities were destroyed in an explosion, make them stand out from other shape changers such as the Zygons and Rutans.

This dream logic would fit right in to a Moffat inspired campaign. Their ability to steal the identity of others could work on the same nightmarish process as the Weeping Angels and the Silence.

While the Faceless Ones can work as an alien species they are equally effective as strange beings on the fringe of society. You might look in the mirror one day and find they have stolen you face, that they have taken your name which you no longer remember, that even your friends and family belong to them now.

Faceless Ones might need access to information to assume an identity, making online data a tempting target for them. The PCs could have to fight a war on the internet to prevent the Faceless Ones stealing every ones identity in one go.

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“Old High Gallifreyan. The lost language of the Time Lords.”

highgallifreyIn ‘Time Of The Angels’ the Doctor and Amy discover that River Song has left them a message, inscribed in High Gallifreyan on a starliner Home Box. The Doctor explains to Amy that High Gallifreyan could burn stars, raise empires and topple gods.

This serves to mythicizes the Time Lords. With them trapped in the Time Lock only their legend remains, spread by the Doctor. Looking at this scene can help establish how you wish to portray the Time Lords in your campaign, regardless of whether it is pre or post Time War.

When first introduced the Time Lords were mysterious god-like beings that everyone was rightly terrified of. They made sort work of the War Lord and his associates before capturing the Doctor and exiling him. They were the one opponent the hero of the show could not defeat.

During the Third Doctor’s era they continued to be an unseen mysterious power, occasionally despatching the Doctor on missions. Their power began to dwindle when we saw them powerless to save themselves in ‘The Three Doctors’.

In the Fourth Doctor’s era we saw more of their political and social arrangements. They had television reporters, traffic control and had all but forgotten the significance of their own historic artefacts.

The Time Lords were rapidly become mundane the more we learnt about them. What is more the presence of Eternals and Guardians further decreased their place in the power structure of the universe.

From this we can see that less is more. By making them a powerful force in the universe (even if they aren’t interested in conquering) their influence can be felt, long after they’ve gone.

Returning to our starting point of High Gallifreyan how literal should we take the Doctor’s comments? He probably means that orders written in High Gallifreyan initiated the use of technology that burnt stars (the Hand of Omega?), arranged the founding of empires or co-ordinated efforts to depose powerful beings.

This paints a picture of the Time Lords being much more involved with galactic affairs. This could make a pre-Time War campaign based on Gallifrey much more exciting as the PCs get involved in decisions that could shape the universe.

Their non-interference policy might only apply to using time travel. If Gallifrey has a present (and ‘Timelink’ by Jon Preddle suggests it is around the 1980s) they can freely get involved in galactic events that are contemporary to them.

Few would dare oppose them for fear that CIA agents might pop into their past to engineer more favourable conditions for themselves. The Time Lords could also send agents forward to glimpse what is going to happen, giving them a further edge.

Burning stars might just be a way to create black holes for their time travel technology. It could be that a TARDIS has a limited range in the universe and creating more allow them to explore further.

It could also be used to destroy planets, as it did Skaro. What planets have the Time Lord’s destroyed and why? PCs could investigate this mystery or find themselves on a world scheduled for destruction.

The Time Lords are powerful patrons and it is quite believable that they could raise an empire. What cultures currently in existence owe everything to the support of the Time Lords? What did the Time Lords want in return?

It has repeatedly been shown that the Doctor is rather sceptical of ‘gods’. To what was he referring to when he mentioned that his people had toppled such beings? Were they Eternals or creatures like the minotaur in ‘The God Complex’?

It is easy to imagine that the Time Lords would feel threatened by such powerful entities. Did they fight them in the present or use time travel to erase them? This could make for an interesting ongoing campaign, with the PCs trying to destroy a timeline, rather than preserve as normal. They could spend centuries from their perspective fighting an incredibly powerful opponent throughout history.

We might take the Doctor’s words to mean that the just the language itself was capable of these feats. In this interpretation they are like spells, able to change reality just by being spoken.

Those who learned how to interpret High Gallifreyan in the absence of the Time Lords could be unstoppable. The PCs could get involved in trying to discover this key (perhaps a Time Lord Rosetta Stone) to stop a terrible threat or they could try to prevent someone else from learning the secret.

It is notable that the TARDIS does not translate the High Gallifreyan for her. The Doctor says that the language is lost but that probably means because he is the only member of his race left. The TARDIS should still know the language but isn’t sharing its understanding with Amy.

This suggests that the symbols themselves aren’t the important part but their meaning. After all, Amy can see the High Gallifreyan letters and the Doctor has just given her a translation (unless he is just being flippant and it doesn’t actually say ‘Hello Sweetie’.)

What this could mean is that the High Gallifreyan language holds concepts and ideas that aren’t accessible to other races or that would unlock new, more dangerous thoughts. This makes them much more alien and mysterious.

Having PCs encounter untranslated messages in High Gallifreyan will make them want to find out what it says. A Time Lord PC could find out but you may wish to prevent them from telling their companions (by not telling the player exactly what it says, only its intent). This can create a divide and remind everyone that there is a difference between them.

The Home Box, with the lost language of High Gallifreyan has been existence for 12,000 years without ever being translated. We don’t know how long it has been on the Delerium Archive but it is a fair bet that someone must have attempted to do so over that period and since no one has been able to (as far as we know) it isn’t likely that they’ll ever succeed.

The PCs might easily come across other artefacts with High Gallifreyan on it. If they’ve got a Time Lord with them they might be the only ones to realise its significance. This can  be a great way to start an adventure, as they’ll want to know what the message says, who wrote it and what the artefact is.

We know that at least River Song understand High Gallifreyan (did the Doctor or the TARDIS teach her?). It is possible that non-Time Lord PCs might learn it. This can give them a secret language that only they understand. Perfect for communicating without fear of your enemy finding out what you are saying (unless they also know High Gallifreyan).

Posted in 11th Doctor, time of the angels | Leave a comment

“Today, we are the headlines. We can rewrite history. We could prevent mankind from ever developing.”

keyWith the information provided by Adam the Editor knows all about the TARDIS and has a key to get inside. ‘The Long Game’ hints at what could happen if a villain gains control of a time machine.

The Editor suggests that he would change history so that the human race never exists. This does seem to be contrary his previous motivation. Mere moments before he’d indicated that he works for a consortium of banks. The enslavement of mankind is a long-term investment.

If we take it that these banks are alien (or indeed run by the Daleks) they gain nothing from wiping out humanity. Since they are motivated by the financial benefit of turning a population into consumer cattle the last thing they’d want is to eliminate this cash flow.

Given that we later learn the Daleks are using humans for genetic material to rebuild their empire they’d also not want to see them removed from history. There could be an even greater impact on their own history if none of the Doctor’s companions existed (unless that is all time locked).

It could be that this is a very elaborate suicide by the Editor. He is, after all human and it is possible that he couldn’t see any way out of his own enslavement. In all likelihood he’d have to go in the TARDIS without the Jagrafess due to its size and dependence on a coolant system. His plan to wipe himself  and the rest of humanity for existence could then just be his idea.

Of course it could all be a bluff. The Editor is just taunting the Doctor, while he has him at his mercy. He might be trying to manipulate him into revealing more about time travel or forcing him to go along with him.

Regardless, the sheer damage that a villain could do with a time machine is terrifying. It is a situation that happens very rarely in Doctor Who, with the Master stealing the TARDIS in ‘Utopia’ and Mel hijacking the time machine at gun point in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ being most notable recent examples.

This is probably wise as the majority of the time the Doctor and his companions should make things better with their arrival, not worse by letting their time machine fall into the wrong hands.

If this happens too frequently in your campaign PCs might become very paranoid about where they leave their own TARDIS. They might hide it, land it in inaccessible places or take turns guarding it.

They will keep its existence a secret, fearing what people will do if they know about it. No NPC will be trusted and they might take great steps to avoid being followed back to the TARDIS. This would make taking on new companions even more difficult.

This is a shame since the TARDIS is a magical presence in Doctor Who.  The Doctor often freely reveals it to friendly people he meet, such as inviting Sir Robert and a police sergeant inside in ‘Full Circle’. Players should have enough trust in the GM that they can let the right people inside.

Used sparingly this can be the start of a good adventure. Ideally the PCs will want to stop the enemy from getting to their TARDIS before they do. This could lead to a chase or a quest as both sides race against each other or try to get vital quest items (like the key).

This can take an added twist if the TARDIS has fallen down a chasm, into the ocean or is floating in space (as it occasionally does). In this situation both sides will have to work out how they are going recover it.

If the villain does get the TARDIS are the PCs with him when he uses it? They could be there under duress, as in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ or just held captive within the recesses of the TARDIS while the villain rewrites history. If he has the only key he could lock them inside so even if they get free they won’t be able to get out. He might take a vital component from the console to prevent them from taking off without him.

The PCs could also be left stranded, as in ‘Utopia’. Their first task will be obtain some way to pursue their quarry whether it be using a vortex manipulator or another TARDIS. This could take them directly to the stolen TARDIS or force them to pursue their enemy across the eons, fixing the damage he causes in his wake.

All is not lost if a villain does obtain a TARDIS. Most obviously, although possibly too anti-climatic, they might not actually be able to use the TARDIS at all. Some companions have managed to activate some basic functions of the time machine only River Song has shown skill that acceded the Doctor’s (with the exception of Romana) and she had the advantage of being taught by the TARDIS herself.

If the villain has the knowledge to work it (possibly stolen from the memories of a Time Lord PC) then things become much worse. The PCs must hope that either the villain can’t navigate to a place in history where they could cause problems (maybe they only go to alien worlds) or the TARDIS resists them.

Time travel is difficult and villains could find that it is more resistant they anticipated. Despite their best efforts they might be unable to change what they want or their actions have unexpected consequences that cause the villain more problems.

The Doctor Who unbound audio ‘He Jests At Scars’ demonstrates what can happen when a villain starts to alter their own timeline, threatening their very existence.

These problems can slow a villain just long enough for the PCs to catch up or be able to fix what ever damage they have already caused. They can then reclaim their TARDIS and think of ways to punish the villain.

Sabbath from the 8th Doctor BBC books is an example of an ongoing time travelling villain that can be a worthy foe for any Time Lord. Not only did his meddling in time cause problems for the Doctor to solve but he was liable to arrive in the middle of an adventure and make things more complicated by solving them using his own methods.

Posted in 9th Doctor, long game | Leave a comment

“Every piece of information in his head is now mine. And you have infinite knowledge, Doctor.”

braindrainDuring ‘The Long Game’ the Editor reveals that much of his power comes from the fact that the majority of the population have a computer chip installed that allows him to access their memories.

When Adam has the same type of computer chip installed the Editor has instant access to all his knowledge about the Doctor including that he has TARDIS. He implies that he will do the same to the Doctor to gain all of his knowledge, which is supposedly infinite.

Presumably all of this is based on the information that Adam has on the Doctor, which must be very little. Therefore it might not be literarily true that Doctor has infinite knowledge, that is just Adam’s impression of him. We must also wonder just how much the Doctor told him about his travels for the Editor to consider the Human Empire tiny to what he has seen.

We later learn that the Daleks were behind the installation of the Jagrafess so it could be that all they needed to learn was a little background information to recognise him as their masters old enemy.

About Time, Volume 7’ by Tat Wood theorises that the Doctor might be able to access a database of information via the TARDIS, either stored in its memory or gathered from its telepathic circuits from the local population. Evidence of this can be seen in the way that the Doctor ‘searches’ his memory to identify the Slitheen and his later recall that Harriet Jones is a prominent historical figure.

The 8th Doctor novel introduced the idea that in order to survive the destruction of Gallifrey the Time Lords downloaded their memories and the Matrix into the Doctor’s mind (deleting some memories to make room).

Either scenario could explain why the Editor believes the Doctor has access to a vast amount of information. If they implant a chip to access his mind, they too will have this expansive knowledge.

There are many incidences of the Doctor not knowing things so how do we reconcile this with his supposed omniscience? A clue can be found in ‘The Beast Below’, where the Doctor is unable to explain to Amy why he is checking a glass of water and he confesses he doesn’t know because he thinks so much that its hard to keep up.

In ‘Silence In The Library’ the 10th Doctor bemoans the fact that his head is to full of stuff and wishes it was bigger. He is clearly annoyed that he knew something but wasn’t ale to get at it because of all the other stuff he knows.

Even if the Doctor does have near-infinite knowledge it doesn’t mean he can access it readily. He needs to shift through it, narrow his search criteria and dismissing data that isn’t pertinent to the current situation.

When the Doctor is relaxed he is able to interact more normally, enjoying the current situation. This can lead to him not knowing things, such as whether ‘Aliens of London’ is when humanity makes first contact with alien life.

The Doctor tends to become more distracted when he is searching his memory. He tells himself to think, mumbling to himself as he runs through the data flooding through his mind.

This behaviour clearly shows two states. One where his access to knowledge is ‘off’ and one where it is ‘on’. His companions are often necessary to switch him between these two states, their questions further helping him process what he is learning.

In game terms this is a great example of how to handle Time Lord characters. They have ready access to their skills  but by spending Story Points they can ‘know’ important information to the plot.

If the Doctor really is gathering this information via the TARDIS then it is possible that he could share this gift with his companions, just as he does the gift of translation. A Time Lord could take this as a special good trait.

This would allow any companion not only able to speak any language they encounter but know useful things about their surroundings. A companion who has ready access to cultural and historical data is much more likely to keep out of trouble.

Adam’s abuse of his own future knowledge could be why the Doctor doesn’t do this. Even the most trusted companion might use the sudden influx of knowledge to their advantage or learn something they shouldn’t.

It could be that human minds just aren’t capable of handling the knowledge. It obviously affects the Doctor’s behaviour, who knows what might happen to a simple human. Like Donna they could be at risk of burning their mind away.

Companions would also be much more likely to realise that the Doctor is interfering with their minds. It is one thing to be able to understand any language, it is quite another to have strange knowledge implanted in your brain.

The Doctor is used to his companions never questioning the gift of translation. The 4th Doctor realised there was something amiss with Sarah Jane when she asked about it and the 9th Doctor was surprised that Rose was upset by it.

It would be much more apparent to a companion that their mind had been meddled with when they suddenly knew things they couldn’t possibly have known themselves. This could be a very frightening experience, especially if the knowledge affected their behaviour.

If you instead go with the theory that the Doctor (and maybe your Time Lord PC) has part of the Matrix downloaded into their brain then they too might question how it affects their personality.

The Time Lord PC might hear the voices of the Time Lords in their mind. When they regenerate this could even be an opportunity for one of those trapped personalities to assume control.

Alternatively the Time Lord might make those memories ‘sleep’. The stored Time Lords might slumber or exist within a psychic landscape, such as the one in ‘Timewyrm: Revelation’ or the garden in ‘The City of The Dead’. A representation of the Capital might make a good place to house them.

While the Editor might make threats it is doubtful that he possessed technology capable of streaming ‘infinite knowledge’. The Doctor has trouble accessing even a small part of it, downloading everything would likely be very destructive.

A Time Lord could take this as a special good trait to protect them from psychic assaults. if another entity or machine was able to breach their mental defences raw exposure to the sheer amount of knowledge they possess could be very painful, if not lethal.

Having access to all of this information can be blessing and a curse. It can be an ongoing character arc for the Time Lord, coping with his burden. Might he consider removing it and how will it affect him if it was taken away?

If the knowledge provided is second-hand what happens when he finds that the information is wrong? Is it an indication that time is wrong or that he can’t depend on the data he has?

Posted in 9th Doctor, long game | Leave a comment

“The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilise an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.”

editorThe Long Game’ reveals that the human race was held back by the mighty Jagrafess  manipulating the media.  This satire targets the practices of large media companies as well as tapping into modern day concerns that our news and entertainment is brainwashing the population.

While this episode is set in the future similar stories could be told in any era, particularly from the 20th century onwards. The James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ even had an human villain manipulating world events (as well as engineering stories).

The Big Finish 7th Doctor audio ‘Live 34’ is another example of a 24 hours news station used to control the residents of human colony in the future. Its format, told as a series of news updates, can be used as a model for such scenarios.

Using propaganda, false stories and censorship are all tools of a secret invasion. ‘The Long Game’ reveals that the human race has been enslaved without their knowledge. The editor even tries to argue that they aren’t really slaves because they aren’t aware of their situation.

An alien run media company would be a good cover for a full invasion. They can squash news stories of alien activity, discredit witnesses or create new stories to make people look in the wrong direction. Criminals could do the same thing to hide their own illegal operations.

The media can be used to control the population. A media company can tell people who to hate, what to buy, what to think. Over a long enough period they can warp history, changing how people behave and altering what should have happened.

The media company can gain allies if their control of the public can be used to benefit a third party, such as a big company or government. The more support they have the harder it will be to take the media company down.

In an adventure the activities of the media company can affect the PCs directly or indirectly. They could engineer a situation that the PCs disagree with but will the heroes realise the source. They might deal with the outcome but not the source, not realising it is the media company that created the situation.

The PCs could become the target of the media company. They could the public turning against them with distorted facts or outright lies. This is particularly effective if the PCs can’t just leave in a TARDIS.

If they are part of an organisation like UNIT or Torchwood bad PR could be as devastating as an alien attack. At the same time both organisations might want to create their own media company to not only promote their cause but cover up their secrets.

The PCs could become a victim of the company itself, manipulated along with the rest of the population. They could fall for the media lies and believe in a non-existent enemy. When they find out the truth will they be able to trace the misinformation back to the media company?

When using such a company consider how big it is. Is it restricted to a single city, country, continent or planet? The bigger and more widespread it is the more difficult it will be to take down.

A successful company will have many people working for it (and not all of them might be aware of the true purpose of the business) and resources available to them. If they are doing a good job of concealing illegal activity then local law enforcement will also be protecting them in addition to any additional security they have.

Simply destroying a few offices or exposing some personnel might not be enough to take down a big media company. They can simply operate from another office, rebuild and rehire.

The PCs might have to fight fire with fire, using the media to turn the public against the evil company or at least undoing the damage caused by their lies and propaganda. This can give the PCs another arena to battle in.

Recent real-world events have shown that no media company is invulnerable.  A big enough public scandal about working practices can turn the public against a big company. Allies will cut their ties or turn against them least they be seen to be supporting the now hated company.

The PCs could use the media as a positive means of striking back against other enemies as well, especially occupying forces. They could rouse the public to fight back or reveal secrets that shock them out of complacency.

A media company could find themselves in possession of information that is vital to the PCs. Phone tapping could reveal not an affair but a network of alien shape shifters, an over eager paparazzi could take a photo of an alien or spaceship and a journalist could steal papers that reveal the presence of monsters.

They could use this information to gain power, black mail others or become wealthy. This would require the PCs to negotiate for the vital information or maybe persuade them to do the right thing for humanity and hand over the details.

A media company works great as a villain that can sit in the background of your campaign. You could simply have all the news and exposition the PCs need provided via one particular media company.

Such a company could run for decades, allowing the PCs to turn to a reliable news source whether they be in 1982 or 2067. The anchor person and logo might change but the company name remains the same throughout the years.

Eventually they might discover a secret, dark side to the company but by then it is a part of their personal timeline. They can’t take the company down without changing their own past. This could require a more strategic response, with the PCs eliminating the darkness while keeping the company intact (so they can receive vital exposition in the future).

Posted in 9th Doctor, long game | 1 Comment

INSPIRATION: The Returned

returnedThe French drama ‘The Returned’ (‘Les Revenants’) tells the story of what happens in a small mountain town when the dead reappear, alive and well with no memory of their death. The series is strangely haunting and a perfect scenario for Doctor Who or Torchwood.

Spoilers for The Returned!

By the end of the 1st series there is still no explanation for what has caused this phenomenon. For the most part those who have been returned to life don’t know how they’ve been resurrected or for what purpose.

For the most part the series explored how the returned and those they left behind were affected by the gap in time between the deads demise and reappearance. The teenager Camille found her parents had divorced and her twin sister was now older than her while Simon found his fiancé was planning to marry someone new.

The Returned didn’t appear to be entirely human either. They rarely slept, had an unending hunger and towards the end of the series began to display marks on their body which could have been evidence of decay. Simon also proved that they couldn’t be killed, taking a bullet only to reawaken in the morgue.

The little boy Victor was even more unusual, able to induce vision in people. In two cases this led to their deaths. Victor didn’t seem to be entirely in control of this ability and it is possible that another agency was acting through him.

At the same time water from the reservoir was vanishing, apparently reappearing by the nearby power station. We learned that beneath the reservoir was the remains of the original village, flooded when a dam broke. This terrible tragedy is suggested to be the reason that the dead have come back and by the end of the series the town is deserted and then flooded itself.

Through the course of the series knowledge of the Returned had spread through the community creating a divide. The police were hunting the returned, while their loved ones protected them in the charity centre ‘Helping Hands’.

There was an undercurrent of mistrust, fear and jealously. Were the returned human? Were they dangerous? Even the returned began to question their own humanity while those who had a brush with death questioned whether they were unknowingly returned as well.

These explorations of the human condition and how a community reacts to strange phenomenon are all good examples of how similar stories can be done in a Doctor Who adventure.

The phenomenon doesn’t have to be the dead returning to life. It could be the arrival of an alien spaceship, the manifestation of psychic powers, the discovery of minerals with unusual properties or something even weirder.

Once you’ve decided what the phenomenon is you can think about who is affected and how do they react. This will help you establish the important NPCs that the PCs can encounter and what their motives are.

Their reactions will drive the story. To create a dramatic story one or more of these reactions will put people into conflict and cause further problems. It is the PCs job to not only react to the phenomenon themselves but prevent the community from falling apart.

You’ll want to think about whether the phenomenon will end on its own (possibly before the PCs have answered all their questions) or whether it requires action to be taken. In either case you’ll want to consider how much time will pass during the adventure.

It could only be a few hours but the longer it runs the more consequences you can explore. It could be a week (as in ‘The Power of Three’ or the Torchwood mini-series ‘Children of Earth’), months ( as in the Torchwood mini-series ‘Miracle Day’) or even years.

If ‘The Returned’ occurred in the Doctor Who universe there are several possible explanations. Here are just a few.

Resurrection

Torchwood has shown that life can be returned to a dead body, both using the Resurrection gauntlet and in the ‘Miracle Day’. Jack’s own special ability is that he can’t be killed.

It could be that the unknown artefact that the Family discovered has a counter-part in the small town (possibly in the drowned ruins of the village). It would only need a function to restore the deads physical body in addition to restoring their life (and the water found in Camille’s coffin suggests that it does).

In this scenario there is no agenda to the dead being returned. It is exactly what it appears to be. The question would remain if they are now immortal, whether it is temporary and who else might return.

If this wasn’t isolated to a small community but occurred on a global scale then problems of over-population would quickly become an issue (especially if the dead were as hungry as those in the town). Not to mention what happens when evil historical figures return or hordes of long dead soldiers, raiders and conquerors.

In this case the PCs might have to find a way to stop or reverse the phenomenon. Can they really deny the gift of life to others?

Shape Changing Aliens

The events of the Returned could be the latest plot of the Zygons or the Faceless Ones. While it might seem unusual to pretend to be people who died they could be hoping that the humans need to believe in miracles will make them accept that this is a resurrection rather than an impersonation. What better way to infiltrate a community that gain shelter and aide from the deceased loved ones?

They’d need to have detailed information about the people they are impersonating to carry this off but any unexplained gaps or hints that they aren’t human can be attributed to the resurrection.

It could be that the shape shifted aliens are sleeper agents and they themselves are unaware of their true nature. When they are activated they could turn into living weapons or find that their alliances have shifted.

Time Travel

It could be that the Returned don’t remember their deaths because from their perspective it hasn’t happened yet. Something could have thrust them forward in time. This could be a natural event, the results of time travel experiments or due to aliens with advanced technology (even a Time Lord). PCs will have to decide whether the Returned can be allowed to stay or if they must be returned to their deaths to preserve history.

The unusual abilities and disfiguration could be due to mutations caused by unstable time travel (a mild version of what happened to Magnus Creel). Much like Magnus their bodies are leaking energy, requiring them to eat constantly and their unkillable nature could be a result of their pre-destined deaths in the past.

Alien Abduction

The Returned might not have died at all. They could have been abducted. This works best when their bodies were never found but even if they were it could be that the aliens left cloned corpses behind to prevent people looking for their captives.

The question here would be what did the aliens want and why are they returning the people now. The tv series ‘The 400’ provides a good exploration of this idea.

Posted in Inspiration | Leave a comment

“I propose an Institute to investigate these strange happenings and to fight them. I would call it Torchwood.”

victoriaAt the conclusion of ‘Tooth and Claw’ Queen Victoria forms the Torchwood institute. Its purpose is to investigate strange happenings and fight them, having recently been made aware of their existence.

She makes mention that the Doctor should beware if he returns for Torchwood will be waiting. This can be taken to mean that he will be an enemy of the organisation but it could also be interpreted as her vowing that Torchwood will be more adept at dealing with situations that are usually his providence.

It is clear that Queen Victoria doesn’t like the Doctor. Her contention that he deals with blasphemous things and finds them fun. Since Torchwood will deal in those very same matters it must be his attitude that she finds disagreeable. In short if he was more serious and didn’t treat the death and monsters with such amusement she may not have banished him.

The 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors have all shown this worrying tendency. They can treat a serious threat as amusing or fun until someone close to them is put in danger. This can rub people the wrong way, especially when their lives are on the line.

In your own games the attitude that PCs have for NPCs and the events that are affecting them can have a similar negative impact. This is an adventure for them, it is the NPCs lives. While no one would suggest they don’t have fun, if the PCs are obviously being entertained by the peril others are facing this can make them seem callous.

Queen Victoria’s words also reinforce the reoccurring theme of linking the Doctor with monsters. Just as Clive warned Rose that the Doctor brought death with him in ‘Rose’ or Madame de Pompadour came to the conclusion that you couldn’t have the Doctor without the monster.

In truth it is unfair to blame the Doctor for this. Only in rare cases such as ‘Human Nature/Family of Blood’ and other stories where he is specifically targeted could he be blamed for causing tragedy.

From the perspective of someone who can’t see the whole picture nor completely understand the elements involved it can be difficult to identify the cause and effect. It is telling that Victoria makes a link between the Doctor and magic.

It is a ceremony, elements of the universe that interact in an unknown manner to twist and turn what people accept as reality. To an outsider his presence summons the monsters, rather than just reveals them.

Given that Torchwood and UNIT perform the same function it could help to give them a different focus (or an additional one) as a result of the animosity towards the Doctor. It could be the very fact that he was a time traveller that set Queen Victoria against him.

She seemed to guess that he and Rose were treating her like a performer, trying to get her to say her famous line. If she understood that they were from the future then she may have realised that their presence had altered time.

Like Captain Adelaide Brooke she may have realised the terrible power that he held. That by saving her life he had irreversibly changed human history. That everything that followed wasn’t supposed to happen until he had willed it so.

In addition to fighting aliens Torchwood could have also made sure that it was protected by other time travellers. These entities would be mysterious beings, able to pass as human (and in fact might be) and able to come and go as they please. Anything they did could shift the fate of Britain.

Torchwood would have a difficult time locating and identifying time travellers. Unlike alien monsters they wouldn’t announce their presence or cause alarm. To find them the institute would have to be watchful for those who didn’t belong, those will advanced technology and those with knowledge of tomorrow.

They may send Torchwood agents to important events or disasters, in the hopes of catching sight seeing time travellers. This would require a quick response (difficult during the 19th century and to a lesser extent in the 20th century) and keen eyes.

This would be a good excuse to place Torchwood PCs during or after historical events. Not only must they cope with the current situation but they must keep an eye on the NPCs, as anyone of them could be a time traveller.

Inventors (especially mad scientists) and those who claim to be able to tell the future (from fortune tellers to psychics) would receive a visit from Torchwood agents to ascertain if they were native to the time period.

Once located the Torchwood agents would need to apprehend them, which could be difficult if the time traveller has a wrist mounted vortex manipulator, like the Time agents. They’d need surprise on their side.

This could leave agents in a morale quandary,  especially if the time traveller was there to prevent some disaster. By stopping them they’ll be responsible for letting that disaster happen, even if they need to in order to minimise the time traveller’s impact on history.

Prolonged exposure to time travellers could leave Torchwood agents second guessing themselves, wondering how their lives are different now they hunt time travellers. What would they be doing if they didn’t have their mission? What would their life be like?

In order to protect itself Torchwood would need to keep its secrets. Not only so that it can continue its mission without the interference of the government but to prevent time travellers from gaining enough information to target it in the past.

While their mission could set them at odds with the Doctor there are plenty of others who could prove ample opposition. The Time Meddler is perfectly suited to be their primary adversary. The Master and the Rani are also good candidates.

Criminals like Magnus Greel, fleeing from the future, would also make good villains for this type of campaign. The knowledge and technology they bring could spark events and they would the deadly skills to prove a threat to Torchwood.

Time Agents from the 51st century could be a reoccurring problem. Their mission might be to protect history but Torchwood wouldn’t see the distinction, apprehending them just as readily as they would other time travellers.

The worst nightmare for a Torchwood is finding that a time traveller is a future version of themselves or someone they know. What could possibly make them abandon their principles. This could cause suspicion on a current agent (and in fact be the reason they defect).

It could turn out that Torchwood realises that it has missed too many time travellers in the past. Using archival evidence they’ve identified the presence of travellers in the past and the only way to restore history is to send Torchwood agents into the past to apprehend them (without being caught by that era’s Torchwood).

In such a campaign time travellers are frightening beings with unknowable agendas. Players might know what will happen in the future but the PCs don’t. The future is a mysterious land, refuges and intruders spilling across the border into the present.

When UNIT comes into existence Torchwood can leave fighting aliens to them. They have their own special purpose that sets them apart.

Posted in 10th Doctor, Setting, Tooth and Claw | 1 Comment

“The entire Human Race is gonna be torn down and rebuilt in the form of one terrified child looking for its mother, and nothing in the world can stop it!”

gasmaskraceIn ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ the Doctor learns that the release of Chula nanogenes have mistakenly used the mangled, body of a boy wearing a gas mask as a template for reconstruction. For a moment he doesn’t see a way out of the situation.

He envisions time being rewritten, the whole world remade in this twisted image by machines that don’t know any better. If not for the discovery that Nancy was the boy’s mother and the nanogenes recognising her DNA to allow them to undo the damage they’ve caused that very well might have happened.

Firstly this is an good example of how the most benign technology can wreck havoc on other worlds. The more advanced and self-sufficient technology becomes the less guidance and control there is.

In this situation the nanogenes encountered a race that it was unfamiliar with but was driven to try to fix it anyway. This is similar to the situation in ‘The Girl Who Waited’, where Amy is nearly killed by medical robots unfamiliar with her species.

In particular nanobots have the capacity to do terrible damage since they can alter, assemble and disassemble on a molecular level. Eric Drexler in his book ‘Engines of Creation’ posits a grey goo end of the world scenario in which nanobots convert all matter into more nanobots, replicating exponentially. In effect reducing everything to grey goo at an incredible and horrifying rate.

We can see the gasmask zombies as a larger scale version of this. Every human being encountered would be converted, who in turn could convert others. Even the dead could be brought back to life in this new form to join their ranks.

The restriction on this is that the gasmask zombies aren’t driven to seek out and convert others. Rather they share the same instinct as Jamie (the template for their design) to find his mother.

Since they spend at least some of their time inert this could reduce their expansion greatly. Still, without a solution the infection would spread, particularly if Jamie decides to expand his search radius.

If events had gone differently and Nancy hadn’t provided a solution what would the Doctor’s next step have been? Containment seems the most obvious solution but it is doubtful he’d have the resources (unless he expanded the TARDIS to encompass the whole of London).

The 9th Doctor may have run, bundling Rose and Jack into the TARDIS and escaping. History would have been rewritten in their wake but maybe the Doctor would hope he could think of a solution later. This could lead to an interesting story arc, with the Doctor adrift in a new timeline, seeking allies and resources while Rose and Jack cope with the loss of everything they now.

In the Doctor’s absence how would time have changed?

It is unfortunate that the outbreak occurred during such a crucial moment in history. With World War II still raging it is doubtful that the government would be able to do anything to contain the infection, especially with bombing raids undoing any quarantine efforts.

Slowly but surely the gasmask zombies would spread out, but it would probably be months before it reached all regions. During this period survivors could make efforts to hide and set up defences.

During this period the British war effort would likely collapse, leaving the country vulnerable to German invasion. Invading troops might mistake the gasmask zombies for a British secret weapon at first.

Before long German soldiers would be infected and probably rushed back to France to either find a cure or be subjected to examination. This would allow the infection to spread throughout Europe.

This could cause the war to continue on for decades, each side trying to take advantage of the infection before they too are infected. It is possible that America, Australia and isolated islands could shut their borders, either preventing its infection or slowing its expansion.

By the 1980s the majority of the world’s population could have been converted. Society would crumble, allowing exploration of various post-apocalyptic settings. Given Jamie’s ability to speak and listen through any electronic device it is likely that such technology would have fallen out of favour, further reducing living conditions.

The early 21st century might not have any uninfected humans left. The whole of mankind could be shambling, immortal gasmask zombies endlessly looking for their mummy. With everyone under his control but still not having found his mother would Jamie look elsewhere, like the stars?

Various alien invaders might initially view Earth as a soft target, until they find that they can’t kill the gasmask zombies. While they don’t have to worry about being converted (unless their DNA is close to that of a human) they might still have their ships and technology taken from them.

Is it possible, with enough time, that Jaime and the gasmask zombies could work out how to use these space vessels to explore the universe to look for his mummy? Early attempts would probably lead to disaster but there is a slim chance they could spend hundreds  (if not thousands) of years searching world after world.

PCs might encounter this timeline, forcing them to survive and work out where the divergence happened. They could team up with 51st century Time Agents who have lost contact with their own time period and are desperately trying to fix the mistake of one of their rogue agents.

They could encounter a similar situation on other planets. There are many different causes for zombie-like infections. With a universe teeming with life there are plenty of victims waiting to be converted.

This can give an adventure or even a campaign a strong horror feel. The PCs must not only avoid infection but defend themselves from those who are infected, find a way to contain it and eventually cure it all while preventing others from being converted as well.

Add time travel and things become even trickier. What if the Doctor was only able to get Rose and Captain Jack into the TARDIS after they’d been infected and unknowingly spread it to other worlds?

Posted in 9th Doctor, Empty Child, The Doctor Dances | Leave a comment

“I only take the best. I’ve got Rose.”

adamOne of the 9th Doctors’ missteps for me was his treatment of Adam in ‘The Long Game’. Picked up during ‘Dalek’ the Doctor rejects him as a companion because he tried to send knowledge of future into the past, to benefit himself.

This continues to establish one of the early themes of the new series, that Rose is special. She sets a high standard and those who fall below it are unceremoniously dumped back home.

From the Doctor’s perspective he is justified in his actions. Adam could have irreversibly altered history with the knowledge he brought back with him. Clearly this wasn’t someone that the Doctor could safely take with him, not without endangering the web of time.

The problem is that Adam doesn’t necessarily share the same view of time nor should he. The Doctor views all of time and space as an established chronology but from Adam’s perspective the events on Satellite 5 in the year 200,000 are just a possible future.

Indeed, one of the early plot points is that history is not as it should be. The Fourth great and bountiful Human empire, with its millions of planets with millions of species has been stunted. Its progress halted by 90 years. This only confirms Adam’s own view that time is fluid. Time has been rewritten once, why not again?

It should also be noted that the Doctor gives him very little guidance. In fact his advice about how to handle time travel is to get involved and make mistakes. He even gives Adam a credit card to pay for his misadventure. Adam can hardly be blamed for throwing caution to the wind.

The extra material provided on the BBC website gives more of Adam’s background, revealing that his father was seriously ill and that he hoped to use technology to save him. This information puts his actions in a new light.

Adam would still have benefited but his intention was always to help others. He wasn’t going to be another Van Statten, hording the technology for himself. Doubtlessly he would have changed history but not necessarily for the worse.

His biggest crime is sending back a massive amount of data but what if he hadn’t. Adam was a genius. Smart enough to begin to reverse engineer any technology that he encountered during his travels with the Doctor.

Eventually Adam would want to return to his own time period (unless he tragically sacrificed himself or found himself stranded in a distant era or on an alien world) so what would prevent him from using that information then?

This can be an important thing to consider in your own campaign. Any character who travels into their own future is likely to encounter technology that could be useful in their own time. The closer that future is the more likely it is they’ll understand the basics and be able to work out how to replicate it.

Jamie would be unlikely to build a car once he returned to his own time (even without the Time Lord imposed memory wipe) but Ben Jackson might be able to given his background as an able seamen (who might have a passing knowledge of engineering). Now which one mysteriously left the Doctor’s company in ‘The Faceless Ones’?

Of course the Doctor has had very intelligent companions with him but they’ve either been members of his own race or, in the case of Nyssa, already had their whole planet destroyed.

A Time Lord PC may have to consider whether a new companion is intelligent enough to pick up technical information. If they are they will need to consider whether they’ll have to put a block on their memory (similar in the way the Time Lord’s blocked the Doctor’s access to his knowledge of operating the TARDIS) or make sure they never return home.

The Virgin New Adventures book ‘Head Games’ states that the 7th Doctor used his mind control powers to influence Mel into leaving his company. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Doctor has done this to other companions, for example making Vicki decide to stay in Ancient Greece or Steve Taylor remain with the Elders and Savages in the far future.

Add to this that Adam had implanted a powerful piece of future technology that would give him an incredible advantage. PCs might similarly pick up technology that permanently upgrades their bodies.

While this can be useful in future adventures it makes it more and more difficult to allow them to return to their own time period with anachronistic technology. This could necessitate the removal of any such upgrades, which could be a painful and difficult process in itself.

Again, the Doctor facilitated the purchase of this cybernetic implant and not once advised against such surgery. Did the Doctor really not think a scenario like this would happen? Especially when he all but forgets Adam during his adventure. Does he really feel no responsibility for what happened?

It is very possible that the Doctor does feel guilt for what happened but directs his anger towards Adam because he is incapable or unwilling to deal with it, since he is already so burdened by his actions in the Time War.

During the events of ‘Father’s Day’, when Rose show she isn’t as perfect as he thought, does he realise how hasty he was? If so we never see the 9th Doctor or any other incarnations try to make amends.

It is interesting that we never encountered Adam again, not even now real life has caught up with his future timeframe. He would an interesting NPC in an adventure, either as someone seeking redemption or revenge.

It could also be that that Adam is wiped out following the Cult of Skaro’s emergence from the void and their apparent alterations to history. This would very conveniently remove a mistake from the 9th Doctor’s past.

His choice of punishment for Adam is quite telling, not to mention cruel. He tells Adam that he’ll have to keep his advanced technology hidden or people will capture him and dissect him. To survive he’ll have to be ordinary.

This ensures that Adam will keep a low profile and thus reduce his impact on history while also reminding him of how he was party to the examination and torture of alien life (which briefly included the Doctor). Being ordinary and in hiding also seems like the worst fate the Doctor could imagine.

While I disagree with how the Doctor treated Adam it does illustrate an important point. The 9th Doctor is flawed, driven by emotion. He has lost so much and there seems little he can rely on or call his.

His friendship with Rose is important to him and anything that weakened that bond was a threat, bringing out a petulant side of his character. Note how he teases Rose by referring to Adam as her ‘boyfriend’. A clear attempt to probe how she feels about the newcomer and how she views their relationship. He displays similar jealous behaviour when Captain Jack and Mikey are present.

This can be an important characteristic when portraying the 9th Doctor in your own campaign. The Doctor is still a force for good but he is a broken man, piecing himself back together.

He holds Rose up on pedestal because he himself feels he needs to aspire to something more than he is.

Posted in 9th Doctor, long game | Leave a comment

“I am a soldier. I was bred to receive orders.”

ordersIn ‘Dalek’ the last remaining member of the titular species realises that it is the last. Its most pressing concern is where it will now receive its orders. It actually asks the Doctor what is should do now.

The Doctor wastes this opportunity, his order to kill itself only ignored because it still has a strong desire to ensure that the Dalek race survives. Ultimately it does self-destruct, but only because its DNA was corrupted by its exposure to Rose.

Could this Dalek have been given a new start? If the Doctor had given its orders would it have obeyed? This might have meant that the Dalek could have become a new companion, predating the possibilities of the Clara Dalek.

The Dalek does indicate that its sole purpose is that of a soldier. It only functions to fulfil orders given to it. It requests orders from both the Doctor and Rose, suggesting that it doesn’t care that those instructions come from non-Daleks (as it understands that there are no other members of its race).

The Doctor says that the Dalek honestly believes that all other species should die and that if it were to escape it would kill every living creature. Yet as a good soldier the Dalek could ignore its own desires in order to carry out any instructions given to it.

It would realise that if it did go on a murderous rampage it would draw too much attention to itself, that eventually enough firepower would be directed against it to destroy it. It is smart enough to know that this is counter to its desire for the Dalek race to survive.

The only way to ensure survival is not to give in to its instincts. This isn’t enough though. It still needs to have purpose in its life. It is a tool created for a specific purpose. This would not be the first time that the Doctor had found use for a soldier.

Bringing the Dalek onboard would be risky but would be a big step for the Doctor. This would indicate that there is hope, if two bitter enemies, the last survivors of the Time War, could work together.

The Dalek could combine qualities of both K9 and Leela, A genius who struggles to curb its instincts to kill. The philosophical debates between the Doctor and the Dalek could have been fascinating.

Given the proper circumstances the Dalek and the Doctor could have common goals. The Dalek would oppose any hostile alien life forms as not only are they are a threat to its well-being it could not tolerate another species successfully conquering the universe when the Daleks had failed.

Friendly or peaceful races were no danger to the Dalek. Protecting such lower species benefits the Dalek in the long run. For all their hate the Daleks could still appreciate the benefits of slavery. The Doctor could show the Dalek that it doesn’t need to put people in chains to benefit from their labours.

If the Doctor felt that he couldn’t trust an armed Dalek he could remove its weapon or at least reduce its power setting. The Dalek might find this tolerable, especially as the Dalek stun beam has frequently been shown to be very effective.

It is doubtful that the Doctor would trust the Dalek, at least at first. He has had experience before of the Daleks playing nice to achieve their goals. It is also likely that the Dalek would only remain loyal until it found a way to bring back the Dalek race.

There are many parallels to the Klein storyline in the 7th Doctor audios (‘A Thousand Tiny Wings’, ‘Klein’ Story’, ‘Survival Of The Fittest’, ‘The Architects of History’).

In those stories the Doctor is accompanied by a Nazi from an alternative timeline. Her philosophy is abhorrent but she is a product of her environment and the Doctor feels responsible for her situation.

Those stories allow Klein to be portrayed as a person, with some merits alongside her dark qualities. While she believes some terrible things there are things that she find appalling and evil.

The alliance between the Doctor and Klein is fragile. On more than one occasion Klein betrays him, with far-reaching consequences but there are also incidences where the Doctor misleads her.

Their relationship provides a good model for how the Dalek and Doctor might act as travelling companions. There would always be the chance that a Dalek would take advantage of situations, possibly at the risk of the Doctor’s own mission.

Eventually other Daleks would be encountered but this might not necessarily be the end of the partnership. Indeed the other Daleks may believe that the Dalek has been corrupted due to his long exposure to the Doctor and Rose and target him for extermination.

Faced with this the Dalek may renounce his former race and may not consider them to be members of his pure race. If the timeline stays consistent then he’d reject the human-Daleks in ‘Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways’  and the Cult of Skaro.

If the Doctor didn’t want the Dalek to travel with him there is still the option of putting him with UNIT. This would make an unusual addition to any UNIT campaign set in 2012 onwards. After years of fighting against aliens they’d know have a powerful weapon against any future invasions.

There is of course the morale debate whether the Dalek could ever be redeemed. Is it innately evil? It could also be argued that evil requires choice, something that the Dalek never had.

Now it could be the influence of others that allows its to develop and grow. The trick would be persuading it not to see this as a sickness but an opportunity for something great.

All these possibilities grow out of the events of ‘Dalek’ but there is no reason that a similar situation can’t happen to PCs in your campaign.  The could meet a similarly stranded Dalek, looking for someone to give its life purpose.

Other species can also be repurposed into an ally of the PCs. Command Strax has shown how a Sontaran commander can help save the day and the comic strips introduced Kroton, the friendly Cyberman.

Such stories can be used to explore themes of redemption and hope that are so prevalent throughout Doctor Who (especially in the wake of the Time War).

Posted in 9th Doctor, Dalek | Leave a comment