‘Blink’, by Steven Moffat, is probably the best of the Doctor-lite episodes. It is also the first story to feature the chilling Weeping Angels. They are the catalyst for this adventure, showing how weird time travel makes the world in Doctor Who.
For our purposes it is an excellent guide to what life is like in this fictional universe and how a campaign could be run with ordinary people. I’ve discussed this subject during ‘Love & Monsters’ but this is more focused on investigation and time than aliens.
This very adventure begins with Sally Sparrow exploring Wester Drumlins house and stumbling into something which was pre-destined. What drew her to the house, why did old things make her sad and why did she need to feel it? Could she be a time-sensitive? On some subconscious level did she know the part she would play in the universe by going there?
If she’d never gone there then the transcript would never have been written and she’d never have passed the information on to the Doctor one year later. Without that information would the Doctor and Martha had to have remained in the past until they caught up to 2007?
An investigation by the player characters can start a chain reaction, putting events in motion and awakening ancient evil. Wester Drumlins house isn’t the only abandoned house in London, or the rest of the world and Sally Sparrow isn’t the only person who likes going where they shouldn’t.
Not only are there abandoned buildings but underground tunnels, bunkers and other hidden structures. Any one of them could be the home of alien forces or hold a treasure trove of ancient relics. The run down structures provide their own hazards such as crumbling floors, failing support beams and exposed wiring.
A whole campaign could be centred around urban archaeologists exploring these forgotten ruins and finding more than they bargained for. Unlike Sally the player characters couldn’t go to the police without risking arrest for trespassing. They’d have to deal with anything they encountered on their own.
The easter eggs that the Doctor left for Sally Sparrow have already generated some interest on the internet among people like Larry Nightingale. They don’t have the whole picture and so what he says is cryptic and exciting.
From the perspective of a humble investigator the glimpses they catch of the Doctor Who mythos could seem more supernatural than science fiction. The existence of time travellers means that reliable predictions of the future could be found in old books, paintings, films and comic books.
These messages don’t mean much to the majority of the population, other than a cool line to put on a t-shirt, but when the right person in the right place is exposed to them, they all click into place.
The references make total sense to them and seem addressed specifically to their situation. This could be the very surreal start to a campaign, player characters finding themselves directed by messages in the past.
It could lead them on a ‘Da Vinci Code’ style adventure, trying to track down and decode the next message that will show them what to do in the hopes of finding out where all this is leading.
For a really odd campaign you could centre it on people like Larry Nightingale, chatting about weird things online. The player characters might never actually meet, living in different cities and countries. Only when they go online do they pool their sources to decode the mysteries of the universe.
Such a campaign could give a nice global feel. Several stories could be run at once, the group putting everything together over time. Imagine 10 jigsaw puzzles emptied into a pile, without the big picture it would take a long time to work out which piece went with which.
This set up doesn’t mean that the player characters would be stuck behind their keyboard. Like Larry they might meet someone who has a vital piece of the puzzle and venture into danger. The other player characters might even encourage them or carry out their own investigations to aide each other.
Another campaign idea is to have the player characters be police detectives like DI Billy Shipton. Unlike an organisation like UNIT or Torchwood police officers won’t realise the significance of the things they encounter and might not necessarily know that they can turn to people who deal with alien forces.
The majority of cases will be normal, although these can be the source of adventures in themselves. From time to time they might be called in to deal with the unusual. Such a campaign uses the police procedural format in the Doctor Who world.
A missing person could be a victim of an alien or the victim of a time travel experiment, a break in could have been caused by an otherworldly hunter looking for prey or a criminal stealing advanced technology, an a drug bust could reveal that the narcotics are made of chemicals unknown to man.
Some cases might remain open for years, evidence rooms filling with odd clues. Each call out might provide the link in the chain that ties everything together and each person they meet might be able to give them the information they need.
Police officers who make a habit of solving unusual cases could gain a reputation and find similar cases ending up on their desks. This is a good excuse to skip the more mundane pieces of police business if you prefer.
The goal of such a campaign is to mix the ordinary world with the wonder of science fiction. This will have a huge impact on the player characters, as they are forced to re-evaluate their view of what is real.
This works best during an era when the existence of alien life isn’t common knowledge, such as any time before ‘Aliens of London,’ ‘Christmas Invasion’, ‘Stolen Earth’ or between these stories when the public was in denial about what happened.
Police campaigns always have the potential to develop. Player characters who get themselves noticed might be asked to join UNIT or Torchwood. They could uncover a huge conspiracy and have to go on the run.
All of which shows that ordinary people can find adventure without travelling to alien worlds.