‘Love & Monsters’ by Russell T Davies doesn’t have a good reputation. It was the first Doctor-lite episode, the monster design was both too comedic and repulsive and had a joke at the end which was decidedly poor taste.
Regardless I think this is one of the best of Russell T Davies episodes. The comedy works, Elton’s narration is an ingenious framing device and David’s focus on the kitchen sink drama works well in the context of the episode.
In many episodes of Doctor Who we only catch glimpses of ordinary folk and how events are effecting them. Panicked shoppers fleeing Autons, people in the street looking up at giant spaceships hanging over the city or families being marched out of their homes by Cybermen or Daleks.
‘Love & Monsters’ focuses on what happens next for these people. How do they make sense of the strangeness of the world they live in? Later episodes often reveal that the majority buy the cover story of hallucinogens in the water supply or that it was all a hoax.
Elton and the members of LINDA are those that look deeper, who seek meaning in an unaging man named the Doctor and his blue police box. A whole campaign could be modelled around similar people.
The group could consist of people who have each had a brush with the Doctor, whether it be a close encounter with the man himself or just being caught up in events. The focus of the campaign wouldn’t be combating aliens, UNIT and Torchwood do that already, but instead on just getting by in such a world.
The LINDA meetings change focus during the course of the episode. It starts as people talking about the Doctor but soon they are opening up to each other about their own personal problems, cooking and even forming a Electric Light Orchestra tribute band. At the end of the episode Elton realises that it was during this era of the group that he was happiest and that they were friends.
Such a campaign would be about the real dramas in life. Getting a job, making friends and finding love. Some problems are more serious than others, such as Bridget’s missing drug addicted daughter, but all can lead to interesting dramatic games.
Not that the game needs to be mundane. Elton explains that his life isn’t all aliens and monsters but that it what we see. By editing out the bits in between you can give the impression of a more exciting life without losing sight of the characters humble background.
The opening of the episode shows many incidents from previous adventures from Elton’s perspective. You could do the same thing, especially if you select an era in which several Doctor Who stories occur in quick succession. You can then skip the weeks, months or years in between as needed, filling in the details of how things have changed for the character in the intervening time at the start of each adventure.
Having a guide to the chronology of the series, such as the excellent AHistory, is ideal for this task. Just glancing at my copy I can see in the last decade alone over 50 events from the television series, books, audios and comics have occurred that could be weaved into the background of on going adventures.
If you can find it Who Killed Kennedy by James Stevens & David Bishop is another example of how to view Doctor Who events from the perspective of an outsider. In this case a journalist investigates the Doctor during the UNIT era. As well as being informative it is also greatly entertaining to catch the references to the particular stories.
You could select a modern setting, choose a historical period or even take it into the realms of science fiction by basing the game during the Earth Empire or near-future so beloved of Virgin’s New Adventures.
In such games the aim is not to defeat the alien of the week. In this game the player characters are bystanders. Instead their goal should be surviving, protecting those they hold dear and maybe finding something out about what is going on. You could also present them with dilemmas such as whether they go to a friends birthday party or investigate a sighting of the TARDIS.
The key is the relationship between the group members. Whether it is researching time lords or playing in a band, working together provides greater results than if they were all acting individually.
Not only can the group achieve results they can strengthen the bonds between them. Two romances develop among the LINDA members and they all care about each other. This is important because not everything can be resolved.
In Brigit’s case she never does find her missing daughter and at one point Elton muses that he may never know why the Doctor was in his kitchen when he was child. Don’t be afraid to end an adventure without answering all the questions. It can lend an adventure a sense of openness and uncertainty. Maybe they’ll find out what was happening in a later adventure and maybe they won’t. Such is life.
For all its comedic tone ‘Love & Monsters’ has its fair share of darkness. Elton is motivated by the death of his mother, a mystery that persists into his adult life, Brigit has her missing daughter and in the end Elton looses everything he loved about LINDA.
This sadness and loss is tragic and it has its place in an adventure. The player characters can’t save everyone and they can’t always succeed. This darkness only further serves to enhance the significance of their victory . In short a character must fall before he can rise.
The Doctor can act as a very special guest star, his appearances mostly kept to fleeting cameos but in certain adventures he can appear to provide closure for the player characters, explaining what has being happening and putting their lives on track.
They might never travel with him in TARDIS or save the world but their lives are worth living, if only for a short while.