The actual time that the adventure with the tribe of gum takes place is a bit of a mystery. Even though one of the versions of the script was entitled ‘100,000 BC’ the date doesn’t quite match the environment or people depicted in the episode. The reason this is so unclear is that the TARDIS yearometer is malfunctioning, displaying ‘0’, which the Doctor says is wrong.
Further more we don’t even no for sure that this is Earth. Certainly the cave men appear human but the Doctor announces that this is a whole new world for Ian. He could have been speaking figuratively but equally this really could be another planet.
All of this shows that sometimes the time and location of the adventure is not as important as what occurs there. This gives a games master more freedom to write his adventure without being historically accurate.
It could also be the perfect way to surprise the players. If the TARDIS doesn’t give them an accurate readout they might believe that they are initially on Earth, even encountering a culture that seems to resemble something from their history.
That’s when the games master has a second sun rise above the horizon or a fantastical creature burrow up from the ground, revealing that the adventure is actually taking place on an alien world that just happens to have a native species who look human. It could even be a human colony that has long since forgotten their original origins and home world.
For those who love alternative histories this is the perfect playground to show how things could have gone. Maybe another world have wars that mirror those that occurred on Earth but with different outcomes or their culture or scientific discoveries take a different path because the absence of a key individual to shape events.
Player characters might not be able to stop World War 2 in Earth’s history but if they see the rise of a dictator on another world they can see where events are heading and try to avert disaster.
The idea of Year 0 also offers up some even stranger ideas. What is Year 0 was a nowhere place outside time, a literal zero time? This could explain the contradictory information about the tribe of gum.
Instead of a featureless limbo, like that encountered in the Mind Robbers, Year 0 could be filled with jetsam from many different time periods, either in isolation or mixing in a haphazard manner.
This has the potential for weird adventures, mixing historical elements. It could be a simple hazard that needs to be navigated out of or it could be the scene of a power struggle, a rogue time lord or other time travelling species attempting to control the region for his own purposes.
A sudden departure from the 1960s is the reason that the Doctor gives for being unable to return Barbara and Ian to their own time period. Without accurate information about where the TARDIS is leaving from it can’t navigate to a specific destination. Without a reference a time ship just randomly leaps from one point in time and space to another.
In a Doctor Who roleplaying game the choice about how much control the player characters have over their TARDIS is an important one, mainly because as the games master you need to know in order to justify why they’ve gone to a specific location.
Setting an adventure in the middle of a war is certainly exciting but if the time lord has control over the ship why would he put himself in danger? Similarly there is a lack of mystery if the pilot specifically choose the destination. Every time the ship materialises he knows exactly what is outside.
Unless it is agreed that the time lord leaves the landing to his TARDIS, as the Doctor often seems to do later in his life, a technical failure can be a good reason to justify a number of random trips, at least until the TARDIS gets its bearings.
This works well in conjunction with companions who have no desire to stay and want to get home, like Ian and Barbara and later Tegan. The quest to return to safety is a reoccurring theme in my television shows and films, not only in Doctor Who. It can even figure into the reward the player characters receive each adventure, finding another piece of information that will help them narrow in on their native time period.
By the time they actually reach home they may have decided that they have grown to like their travels in the TARDIS and now they’d like to keep travelling, knowing that they can return home any time they like.