‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a very difficult story to categorise mainly because it was specifically designed to be odd. After a story in the past and a story to the future it was decided that there should be a story which is ‘sideways’.
This oddness is not in the TARDIS destination but in the behaviour of the main characters and the time machine itself. Their means of transport now becomes their prison cell, trapping them in a strange limbo as paranoia overcomes them.
Such an adventure is difficult to duplicate in a roleplaying game, short of swapping who is playing which character or even turning some of the main cast into NPCs for the duration. Some players might be persuaded to act out of character in return for story points but it would be a challenge for them to do something different yet still recognisably part of their personality.
Paranoia is easier to establish. Simply start passing notes to players, forbidding them to reveal the contents to the others, to have the players start asking some hard questions about what is going on and who can they trust.
There is plenty to draw inspiration from in this two part story. All of the characters awake in a state of confusion, with gaps in their memory and mood shifts. This establishes a sense of confusion and most of the story is spent trying to work out what is happening.
A games master can start an adventure with the player characters awaking in a strange location with no memory of how they got there. This could be because they have been mind controlled, have their memories erased by some advanced science or their consciousness projected into the future.
They will have to quickly adapt to their surroundings and get their bearings. If they awake alone the player characters will need to find each other and ultimately back to their TARDIS. Along the way they can piece together how this occurred and what it means.
Just as the TARDIS tries to give obscure clues to the crew to alert them to a technical problem the player characters might experience odd encounters that in retrospect point them in the correct direction.
A games master who knows his players well can think what the characters would have done before they lost their memories. It can be intriguing for the player characters to uncover their handiwork and even find clues they have left themselves.
An adventure can also be based around the idea of a group of characters being trapped, with tension increasing among them. To avoid in-fighting among the player characters they could be trapped with NPCs, not knowing who to trust. In turn the NPCs might view the player characters with suspicion, especially if they keep secrets amongst themselves
An example of this is ‘Midnight’ where the passengers on a shuttle turn first on Sky and then the Doctor. In addition the 1993 film ‘Lifepod’ presents a scenario in which survivors of a space disaster have limited supplies of air, water and food knowing that one of them is the saboteur and the television series ‘Earth 2’ has a similar situation with people trapped on an alien planet and knowing one of them was responsible.
In these situations the key elements are that they are in a confined locations and that they have limited resources. It is the limit of the resources that causes tension. Not everyone will get the items available and no one wants to miss out.
People are also reluctant to share supplies with those that they don’t like or don’t trust. Small groups also form alliances, supporting each other and ostracizing others. The player characters will need to think tactically and side with the right people.
When designing NPCs think about what makes them valuable. Is someone medically trained? Can one of them fix technical problems? Is one of them an ambassador that is supposed to stop a war?
Once you know who is valuable who is sympathetic? Is there a little old lady or someone who is sick? Is there a single mother or an orphan that needs to be protected? Is there someone who has had a terrible life and is afraid to die.
Think then about who each of the cast of NPCs will side with and how their alliances might change in certain circumstances. If there is limited medicine should it go to the sick man, the ambassador or the engineer? What if other people in the group disagree?
One or more of the group could be villains and it might not be obvious. They could be very clever at maintaining their cover identity, a shape shifting alien or an entity that can jump into bodies at will.
It can be terrifying to know that one of you is a killer. If people start dying the list of suspects narrows but the odds you’ll be next increases. People will start to take drastic measures to find the killer before they’re next, foregoing evidence or logic to eliminate the threat.
There is usually a further danger involved from an outside source. This could be a boat trapped in a storm, a spaceship falling into the sun or trapped down a mine shaft waiting to be rescued. As the deadline approaches tension increases to breaking point.
The adventure doesn’t have to be spent just dealing with other people. There could be technical problems that need fixing, mysteries to solve, such as what caused the situation, and there could even be monsters that need to be held at bay until rescue comes.
In Doctor Who the ideal outcome should be that people overcome their paranoia and work together to save themselves. As the Doctor once said “Fear makes companions of us all’.