A little research can provide you will a variety of customs that set any time period apart form the modern day, in addition to the fashion and the dress. Look to find interesting past times, sayings or social events that will allow the players to feel they really are in a different place.
You can focus on a particular aspect of a time period to strengthen the feel of the story. In this case events in France are centred in the Royal court. Everything is stately and grand and we are spared the poverty and strife which lies outside of the palace grounds.
This complements the clockwork robots, the elegance of their workings coupled with their fine dress makes them seem to fit right in. You can do this with other aliens and monsters, finding aspects of them that will match the surroundings. For example cybermen would work well in a Victorian steel mill, surrounded by machinery and slimy Zygons would make natural residents of swamps.
This episode shows that you don’t need to worry about introducing aliens into a historical adventure for fear of disturbing the time line. After the events of this adventure time seems unaffected by the alterations.
Before the modern age of television and photography any encounters with other worldly beings can forgotten, dismissed as fairy tales or covered up. You might struggle to explain how no one recorded a giant Cyber king in Victorian England but anything on a smaller scale should be easy to resolve.
Incidentally the way the repair drones take the party goers prisoner is a good illustration of a successful fear attack. A monster does not need to kill to achieve their aims. Simply brandishing their weapons is enough to quell any resistance. This tactic can be used when you want an enemy faction to capture npcs but don’t want any blood shed.
For those looking for adventure ideas spun out of this episode you could certainly follow up on what happened to the clockwork robots once they powered down. Did anyone study them to learn how they worked? Did some 17th mad scientist attempt to make his own clockwork man?
This conjures to mind visions of masked assassins, impervious to weapons and accompanied by a sinister ticking despatched by their creator, operating from his lab, filled with clocks that hide the presence of his robotic killers. Can the player characters stop this futuristic technology being abused?
The 51st century is certainly a surreal futuristic setting. What kind of level of technology has mankind reached where a single spaceship is able to punch holes in time? It is arguable whether the time lords, pre-time war, would have allowed them to reach this stage. You can certainly see why time agents would be required to prevent temporal meddling.
Clockwork robots are an interesting way to solve the problems of providing power for autonomous units. No longer would they need batteries or an external energy source to keep them going, just the turn of a key.
A spaceship that has broken down is a good setting for any adventure and reoccurs frequently throughout Dr Who. Space is very big and if you don’t have the parts, as the repair drones didn’t, then there is no where to get them.
We’ve discussed such scenarios when we looked at ‘The Edge of Destruction,’ but the behaviour of the repair drones shows that it isn’t just space vessel that can go wrong with terrible consequences.
The more powerful a piece of technology is the more devastating the effect when it breaks. Time travel can take the player characters to these worst case scenarios showing what could happen when the weather controlling machines start causing tornados to rip through cities, an underwater bases outer force field begins to fail or genetic therapy starts to cause horrible mutations.
It is worrying that the repair drones response to needing to repair the ship was to sacrifice the crew. This could be a corruption in their programming but it also might indicate that human life isn’t nearly as valuable as that of the ship they are on.
This combining of machinery and flesh does occur in the same era as Magnus Greel and his Peking Homunculus. The knowledge of how to create cyborgs must have been readily available to the repair drones.
It is interesting to speculate how close the human race is to becoming like the cybermen. Would a desperate crew, stranded in a dead spaceship, begin to convert themselves, at first to survive and then to thrive in such a situation. The player characters could be on hand to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
The past and future are foreign countries, they do things differently there.