The next story is variously known as ‘The Daleks’ or ‘The Mutants.’ It introduced one of the most iconic monsters to the series and established that the Doctor and his companions would be exploring realms of pure science fiction rather than just our own history.
The first episode is ‘The Dead Planet’ and the Daleks don’t appear until right at the end and even then we only see a single plunger. Instead the focus is on the TARDIS crew exploring an alien world, in Ian and Barbara’s case for the first time.
Note that just as in the previous story the time travellers don’t immediately know where or when they are. Picking their way through a petrified forest it isn’t until Barbara discovers a metal lizard creature that they know for sure they aren’t on Earth.
These opening scenes do a good job of creating mystery and establishing that this planet had a history before the TARDIS arrived. They quickly reason that some intense transformed the forest and wonder what could have caused it. They are seeing the aftermath of some terrible event and instantly want to know what that event was.
This is a good guide to starting an adventure off on the right foot. If you begin with the player characters emerging from the TARDIS it is a good idea to show them a clear sign of how the environment has been effected by the events on the planet.
Luckily this is pretty easy to do. Ruined buildings, fantastic towers of crystal and propaganda posters plastered across stone walls all tell you something about your location almost immediately. Hopefully the player characters will wonder how things got this way and investigate.
The scene with the metal beast also demonstrates that life can exist in a variety of forms. The Doctor hypothesises that its skin was pliable metal held together by an internal magnetic field which it could use to draw other metallic life forms to itself.
Although the Doctor Who series rarely shows that amount of imagination in the aliens that would subsequently be encountered, no doubt due to budget constraints, this scene does establish that the life forms encountered can be pretty strange. The Doctor’s attitude even suggests that this diversity isn’t uncommon.
A games master can use this to justify any bizarre creation he can think off. Crystal unicorns with ghostly brittle bodies, gas clouds with a whirling maelstrom of energy at their core or hive mind spores that hijack the bodies of other species are all just as likely to be encountered in the far corners of the universe.
Some might be reluctant to let their imagination have free reign, seeking a realistic design that confirms to our idea of how organic life develops. What these first few episodes of Dr Who have demonstrated is that what we think of as possible and impossible is not only limited but wrong. We have only just begun to discover how the universe really works and preconceptions should be put aside.
What the viewer knows at this point, and which the main characters don’t, is that the surface of the planet is highly radioactive and through the episode the crew begin to fall ill from its effects.
Although Susan checks the Geiger counter before leaving the ship it apparently took some time for the read out to activate and push the arrow into the danger zone. It would take a pretty cruel games master to do this in a game and make the players extremely paranoid about ever stepping outside the safety of the time machine.
It does, however, bring us to the idea of how the environment of a planet can add its own challenges and diversity. If the player characters know ahead of time and can prepare it can be interesting for them to explore a radioactive planet with anti-radiation drugs, don space suits to search a world with a hostile or non-existent atmosphere or get out the climbing equipment to delve into the mysterious caverns of a hollow planet.
This heightens the feeling of adventure, the sense that they are the first people, at least from Earth, to go this far and make these discoveries. No matter how much they prepare the player characters will always have at the back of their mind that they will be in great danger if their equipment should fail.
The presence of a city excites the Doctor so much that he deliberately sabotages the TARDIS so they have an excuse to go explore there. An example of the insatiable curiosity trait being taken to its extremes.
It should be obvious from the episode title ‘The Dead Planet’ that the story to this point like an archaeology expedition. Everything is a relic, so far it appears as if the planet has no present or future, only a past which the Doctor wishes to uncover.
This can be the motivation for many adventures, allowing the player characters to discover what happened. The question of why they’d want to know depends on the characters, especially if they need to put themselves in danger to get the answers they want.
For the Doctor it is his desire to learn. He is an explorer and with his lack of control of the TARDIS he might never be able to return and find out. It would be terrible to have a question that was never answered.
Information can also be useful in the future. As the saying goes ‘Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it’. Knowing how something occurred can arm the time travellers with the foreknowledge they need to avert similar events on other planets.
Those interested in wealth could be seeking treasure and those with a desire for fame might consider the acclaim they can later gain for having explored ancient alien ruins. These aren’t common motivations for Doctor Who characters but can certainly persuade some people why they might want to investigate the ominous alien city on the horizon.
Although it is later revealed to be a ploy the search for mercury to repair the ship is what motivates Ian and Barbara to head into the alien city. The need for supplies or resources is a good way to motivate player characters to head in specific directions. As travellers through time and space their supplies will always be running low of something.
Of course once inside the city the TARDIS crew meet the inhabitants…The Daleks!