It is difficult to fit the time line of ‘Beast Below’ into the rest of Who continuity. The story is set in the 33rd century but the great disaster that forced everyone to flee occurred around the 29th century.
Consulting my copy of ‘AHistory’ during this period the Doctor Who episodes ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, ‘The Robots of Death’, ‘Power of Kroll’, ‘Caves of Androzani’ and many others occur.
In those stories Earth is the centre of an Empire, space travel is a common occurrence and colonies have been established on many other worlds. How then can we reconcile this will an Earth that had to evacuate their planet on mass and wander the stars?
From the future depicted in these Classic Who stories there should have been fleets of ships ready and able to take everyone on Earth to any number of colonies. These outposts would need to have been expanded and the population would have been widely dispersed but certainly do-able.
Not to mention the number of books and audios that are set during this time span where Earth is perfectly fine. What then could explain this apparent anomaly and more importantly, what source of adventure ideas does it present?
The easiest way to explain this apparent contradiction is that this is an effect of the Time War. Earth’s history has been rewritten, those pesky Classic Who stories wiped away as Earth now never develops the interstellar space technology it once had and is caught by surprise by the solar flares.
If not the Time War it could be due to the Cracks that appear throughout Season 5. We see one on the space whale at the end of the episode. Could it have carried it for centuries, changing history in its wake?
It could be interesting for the player characters to arrive in a time period where events do not match what they have previously seen of the future. This could be part of a larger plot, tracking down anomalies to find out what is causing them.
Another explanation lies in the fact that only Great Britain actually escaped on the back of a space whale. There might have been a planetary evacuation, forcing all nations to leave but the danger then passed or had just been a false alarm. While most of the nation ships returned those on the space whale were different matter.
If they didn’t receive the all clear Starship UK would have kept travelling through the stars. We have no way to know just how fast the Space Whale was actually capable of going. It could be that all inhabitable colonies were outside the range of the beast to reach.
There is also no guarantee that they had any way to pilot the Space Whale, other than shocking its brain to keep going. In the vastness of space and with no way to choose their direction it is entirely likely that Starship UK would never bump into another space ship or colony.
Another option is that the Space Whale occasionally travels through hyper-space, moving fantastic distances in a short period but also taking the crew far beyond the reach of the human empire.
If there were other ships that missed the call to return to Earth player characters could find themselves helping space farers to get the word out and track down missing vessels. How would crews who have spent generations fleeing react to being told that they could now go home?
The Earth Empire is frequently treating its colonists rather poorly, and in turn the colonists often treat the natives of any planet they colonies in similar manner. It could very well be that the evacuation of Earth led to the collapse of the Empire.
Colonists might see it as a chance to declare their independence while enslaved natives might use the opportunity to overthrow their conquerors while they are unable to receive supplies.
The reason the Nation Ships could still be on their long journey is that their colonies might not want them there, turning them away. Even after centuries had passed the Nation Ships would be reminder of dark times.
This time of turmoil puts player characters in volatile movements where years of resentment boil over. Their actions will determine if lives are lost and if freedom is won. These are the events that have a marked impact on history.
The solar flare itself might have been caused by an enemy of Earth. They’d already come into conflict with Daleks, Cybermen, Draconians and the Ice Warriors. Any one of them would benefit from forcing humanity to evacuate, leaving the planet ripe for conquest.
Player characters could expose their plan and either prevent it or take part in the recapture of the home world. This could even be done as an epic campaign, focusing on hard won battles to claim back Earth, piece by piece.
To explain the lack of space travel and colonies Earth might have experienced a short dark age. This could have been caused by a natural disaster, a new philosophical movement that shunned technology, war or the interference of alien intelligence but in the years leading up to solar flare humanity has regressed.
With little time to flee the planet the nations must recover what they have lost, rediscovering scientific knowledge and assembling relics of the past in order to escape. They player characters could become involved in this search, every second counting as the solar flares approach.
For those willing to fudge the figures it is simpler to push the time of the evacuation of Earth to around 6,000, tying it together with ‘The Ark in Space’. Most of the planet flees in the Nation Ships but a few are left behind on Nerva Beacon to rebuild once the danger had passed.
The difference in the time period established in ‘Beast Below’ can be explained by misinformation in their computer database, maybe to cover the nature of the frequent mind wipes. It might not just be Liz 10 who is much older than she thinks.