‘Spearhead from space’ by Robert Holmes doesn’t just regenerate the Doctor but the whole series. From this episode onwards the Doctor will spend a lengthy amount of time in the same place, unable to use his TARDIS. No longer does he have companions, but assistants and for the first time he has an employer in the shape of UNIT.
Many of the Doctor’s first stories could easily have featured their previous incarnations. ‘The Power of the Daleks’ featured the Doctor facing off against his old enemies on a space colony, ‘Robot’ has the fourth Doctor helping UNIT stop an evil organisation on modern day Earth and ‘Time and the Rani’ has the seventh Doctor on an alien world controlled by a villain he encountered in his sixth incarnation.
Spearhead from Space feels and looks completely different from what has come before. The first episode doesn’t focus on the Doctor initially, instead concentrating on UNIT. His presence is treated as an extra mystery for the Brigadier who is already investigating the unusual meteor showers.
Even the main location of this first episode, a busy hospital, is much more realistic that anything shown before. Coal Hill school simply served as a back drop for Ian & Barbara’s musings about Susan and the swinging 60’s London of ‘the War Machines’ was pure tele-fantasy.
Here we have other patients reading magazines while they wait to be seen, doctors and nurses seen consulting in the background and seedy porters looking to make some extra money in-between vacuuming.
Throughout we are constantly being put into that reality. Liz serves as out point of view character during her initial meeting with the Brigadier, sceptical when told of the existence of alien life. During the press conference a hand held camera is used to put us right among the throng of journalists.
All of this re-enforces the message that this is happening now. This could be happening right outside your window.
This demonstrates that the regeneration of a time lord player character isn’t just an opportunity for them to change their attributes but for you to change the campaign format.
You don’t need to do anything as dramatic as exile them to Earth but you can certainly take the opportunity to adjust the focus. If they used to travel to randomly maybe they could gain an agenda or quest. You could limit their travels to one planet but still let them travel through different times or alternatively let them travel far and wide in one specific time period (which would work very well in a futuristic setting where there are plenty of inhabited worlds to explore).
The groundwork for the third Doctor’s era had been set in motion over a course of several years. ‘The War Machines’ was the first story to feature the Doctor helping the military defeat a threat in a modern day setting, ‘The Web of Fear’ introduce Lethbridge Stewart and ‘The Invasion’ established the UNIT organisation by pitting them against the cybermen.
By the time of the third Doctor the writers knew that the setting worked and that thse kind of stories were popular. By keeping an eye on what your players like you can start to think about what campaign set up they’ll enjoy.
If there is one time period they enjoy try having them return a few times, if a particular NPC was a success have them re-meet them in a subsequent adventure. If they continue having a good time with these elements consider making them a permanent part of the campaign.
This has the added benefit that while the player characters go through the awkward adjustment period of a newly regenerated time lord they have something familiar around them but with the clear message that things will be different now.
You can also use these changes to add new things to the mythos. ‘Spearhead from Space’ was the first Doctor Who story to introduce the idea that Time Lords have two hearts, as well as the other biological anomalies that the hospital find. You can add small details like this that very well might become part of the core of the background of your game.
The big question that every player should have when playing a new regeneration is how should they roleplay them? Each Doctor isn’t just the same performance by a different actor. They are different people and the way they talk and act should reflect that.
My own preference is that the role of the time lord should rote among the players during regeneration as this is the best way to reflect that the time lord is a changed person, gives each player a chance to be in the spot light and makes any stories featuring multiple incarnations of the same time lord that much easier.
This isn’t suitable for every group. Players become attached to their characters and don’t want to give them up. In these cases the player should be encouraged to change their traits to that indicate a change in their personality. For example a time lord with the clumsy and forgetful trait will seem like a completely different person when they swap those traits for argumentative and obsession.
A player doesn’t need to make decisions straight away about how they want to portray their new incarnation. It is a well established part of the mythos that the Doctor is initially unstable during the first hours of his regeneration, typically not gaining his trade mark characteristics until the end of the adventure.
In ‘Spearhead from Space’ the Doctor is only really awake for one scene and Jon Pertwee’s performance is very similar to how Patrick Troughton would have delivered the lines.
He is both clownish and devious in these opening scenes, worrying about his forced transformation to the confusion of all those around him and sneakily recovering the TARDIS key from his shoe. Confined to a hospital bed he is put in a subservient position, the others towering above him.
Through the story he takes on more of the refinement and air of authority that we more closely associate with the third Doctor. This is no doubt informed by the setting. He awakes surrounded by doctors, is partnered with a scientist and working for military figures. In order to function he needs to be a similarly strong, professional figure.
Bearing this in mind a newly regenerated time lord player character should be allowed to alter his traits and attributes during the course of the adventure, only locking these changes in place at the completion of the game.
If things don’t work out with the changes to the campaign then you can change them later. The third Doctor was eventually able to leave Earth and continued having adventures in the same vein as his previous incarnations but his character, defined by his time as an exile, remained. This allowed him to continue to put his own mark on his adventures.