When I started this blog my mandate was to include all the various mediums of Dr Who. It would be a shame to be limited to just the television series as the books, audio plays and comics have all contributed so much to the mythology.
The first book I want to examine is ‘The Adventuress of Henrietta Street’ by Lawrence Miles. Before I discuss the story itself a little explanation is required as the novels took the brave route of changing the status quo in the Dr Who universe.
At this stage Gallifrey had been destroyed (for the first time) and the 8th Doctor had lost his memory. At the time his travelling companions were Fitz Kreiner, a roguish 1960s Londoner of German descent and Anji Kapoor, a stock trader from 2001 who had recently mourned the loss her of her boyfriend in one of the Doctor’s adventures.
‘The Adventuress of Henrietta Street’ is written as if it were a historical documents, relating events that occurred in 1783. This means that we view the TARDIS crew from an outsiders perspective, casting them as supernatural beings.
In a nutshell Earth is being attacked by red-eyed apes that can appear out of thin air called babewyn, meaning demon. These attacks increase in frequency and the Doctor realises that without the time lords to keep things in check the babewyn have free reign to invade normal time. In order to stop them he must bind himself to Earth, making it clear he is the planets protector, to prevent further intrusion.
Plot wise it is a mix of an invasion story (the babewyn attacks) and investigation (finding the cause of these attacks). In trying to find where the babewyn are coming from and what they are the Doctor learns that they are a symptom rather than the cause.
This change of plot direction can keep things fresh. Player characters will adopt certain tactics to deal with the situations they face so if they find out, half way through the story, that the plot isn’t what they thought it was they will have to adapt on the fly.
What makes this story unique is the representation of time and the Doctor. Ritual becomes incredibly important with much of the story focusing on Scarlette, the head of brothel, keeper of the secrets of the elementals and the adventuress of the title. Her brothel is her ‘house’, competing with various other occult houses that all use rituals to some extent to gain control and power.
These houses can be seen as a parallel to the Gallifreyan Houses. It is interesting to ponder if there was any competition between the various factions over knowledge of time travel. Were their areas that they kept hidden from other houses? Did they research take them into forbidden areas in order to maintain their edge against the others?
In this story the perception of time has an actual affect on how it works. There is a limit to how much the human brain can understand of time so time has a horizon, a point which is unknown. It is from here that the babewyn originate, manifestations of ignorance.
The universe and the laws that bind it together is normally presented in Doctor Who as a fixed constant. The interpretation in the book is that the universe is the way it is thanks to the perception of sentient life.
This throws into question everything we know about temporal physics and the web of time. It could be that time obeyed certain laws because the Time Lords decreed it to be so. As the first race to master time travel they established the rules.
The recent Christmas special, ‘A Christmas Carol’, would seem to suggest that this is correct. The Doctor has learnt that time can be rewritten and does so to change a man’s very nature by tinkering with his past, something that would have been unthinkable for the 1st Doctor.
If you wanted to follow this line of logic then the perception of time of other alien races could lead to unusual adventures. What if there was a race would didn’t believe the past existed. Would that prevent a TARDIS from going into their history? What if they believed the future was easily within reach and so had the ability to ‘see’ what tomorrow held for them.
Time Lords are described by the Doctor as elementals, basic components of the universe. Even with them gone the knowledge they held still existed and was inherited by various people as the rituals the houses use. In order to protect the Earth the Doctor must make symbolic display of pledging himself to be its protector, in this case getting married to a human. Both the babewyn and the Doctor’s companions can be summoned and a single word can allow a person to travel in time. This is time travel as magic.
You could run a very different game of Doctor Who using this perspective. Most of the elements will be the same but instead of having a basis in scientific explanation you can trace their origins to magic, ritual and symbolism.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth. It could simply be the perspective of those involved in the campaign. If all of the player characters are from a low tech level this is likely to be how they understand the things they encounter.
Arthur C Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” which is a good excuse as any to run Doctor Who as a fantasy tinged roleplaying game.
Aliens are now monsters, robots are enchanted statues or golems and time machines are magical doors that open up on to far away lands and by gone days. Instead of scientists you have wizards, able to bend the universe to their will with their sonic wand.
You only have to look at the Master’s resurrection in ‘The End of Time’ to see how close it is to the magical resurrection of Voldemort in Harry Potter. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you.
You might also want to focus on the conflict between the occult Houses in the 17th century. The player characters could be members of a single house, working together to organise ceremonies, discover ancient secrets, fight the odd monster that might have intruded into human realms and foil the plots of the other houses without initiating open conflict.
Changing genres is something that Doctor Who does well. The TARDIS can take the crew into different stories and allow them to fit in. It can be worth experimenting to keep your games surprising and exciting.