The rumours have once again begun that there will be a ‘Doctor Who’ movie, reinventing the franchise for the big screen. It remains to be seen whether this actually materialises but it does suggest a new way to run a Dr Who campaign, reinvent it from the ground up.
Now this is tricky to achieve, since one of the draws of the game is to play within a well known fictional universe. Change too much and you might as well not be playing Dr Who. The trick is to identify what is essential to franchise.
Obviously the Doctor needs to be included. At the most basic he is a person who travels time and space. This is the seed that all Doctor Who stories grow from. The unlimited possibilities that this offers to the character.
Reimaging the Doctor allows a player to make the role their own, rather than playing any pre-existing incarnation. Looking at ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’ we can see that Peter Cushing’s Doctor has a vastly different temperament to William Hartnell’s portrayal.
A player character could play the Doctor in the style of Patrick Troughton’s mischievous trickster, Jon Pertwee’s gentleman adventurer, Tom Baker’s wide-eyed bohemian or invent their own take.
Does the Doctor need to be alien? Does he need to be Gallifreyan ? In reinventing the character you might choose to emphasis the ‘Who’ aspect, making him a real enigma. The player need not even know his true origins.
The Doctor could be human, maybe a Victorian inventor who has stumbled upon the secret of time travel. He could be from the far future, where nanobots heal instantly through regeneration and time travel is common place but strictly controlled. Maybe this future is a dystopia and the Doctor wants to change it, making his own people brand him as a criminal.
He could still be alien but not Gallifreyan. Maybe he only looks human thanks to a shape shifting ability or technological disguise, his true from too wondrous or hideous for human eyes.
Could he even be some thing more akin to the Eternals or the Guardians? Is the Doctor some elemental force representing time, and as such can never truly be destroyed? Did he bring himself into existence through the use of time travel?
The more question marks about the nature of the Doctor the greater emphasis is placed on the ‘Who’ of the title. Nothing will create more excitement and mystery than removing familiar aspects.
How would the players react if an adventure took them to a Gallifrey but it was lifeless planet or if they knew that the ‘Doctor’ doesn’t have the ability to regenerate. What if god-like beings ran in fear from the Doctor or his companions briefly glimpsed his true form?
This would give you great freedom to create your mythology for the Doctor, dropping hints and clues along the way to heighten the mystery. The Doctor is still the Doctor but he might not be what the players were expecting.
What about the time machine itself? The TARDIS is as recognisable, if not more so, as the Doctor. It’s Police Box form was intended to be a recognisable part of every day life changed into something special, something which has clearly dated.
Yet would the TARDIS feel the same if it was in another shape? There is mileage to be had from having a time machine that actually can shape shift into a form that suits its environment on every trip but it lacks a certain element of fun.
The police box is recognisable, quirky and gives us a hint of the Doctor’s character. For all his scientific knowledge he can’t fix a basic function of his time machine and actually comes to appreciate it for its flaws.
Personally I would keep it as the police box, an essential part of what Doctor Who is. Others may decide to change it, just to see what affect it has on the setting. The great thing is that it only takes an adventure to 1960s London and a technical failure to lock it into the form we know and love.
‘Bigger on the Inside’ would also seem to be an essential aspect of the TARDIS. It immediately communicates that things are not what they seem and that it possesses abilities we can’t even fathom.
It is almost more amazing that its ability to move in time. We can imagine how that could happen but how can something be have an interior physically larger than its exterior? That is magic.
Is it essential? Removing this ability changes the nature of the TARDIS. It is no longer a shelter, losing its feeling of safety. The Doctor is now rattling through the vortex in a small box.
It isn’t a home. No one could live there for an extended period. You can’t sleep and even cooking would be difficult in the cramped conditions. The TARDIS is a means of transport, albeit an incredible one.
Even picking a travelling companion becomes a weightier decision since space inside the TARDIS is limited. It also changes the time travellers priorities when they arrive at a new location. One of the first things they’ll need to do is seek out a place to sleep and get something to eat.
What if we take the opposite direction and make the TARDIS much bigger on the inside? What if there was an entire city or even a world inside there? Now the Doctor isn’t an exile, just the only occupant of the time machine who bothers to step outside or the only one to know the true nature of where his people live.
Now the door outside is a magical portal, a distraction from the Doctor’s ‘normal life’. Like the Pevensie children’s trips to Narnia or even Mr Benn’s flights of fancy in a fancy dress shop the TARDIS can take the Doctor on incredible adventures.
Could the TARDIS be a companion in itself. Only recently did we get acquainted with its personality in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ but what if it could interact with the crew all the time?
This could be through an AI installed in the TARDIS, speaking through a projected voice or the type of holograms we see used in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’. It could be an emotionless computer or have a fully fleshed personality capable of developing relationships and pursuing its own goals. It could be a servant or a friend.
The TARDIS can be a source of mystery itself. The Doctor could have invented it, as in the Peter Cushing movies, or borrowed it but what if he didn’t know the origin himself? What if he simply found the TARDIS and worked out how to pilot it?
In this case who made it? How did it end up where the Doctor found it? Is it really a time machine or is that just a fraction of its true power? Is it alive and if so does it have its own agenda? Is it a tool or is it using the occupants?
Next we’ll look at companions and other aspects of a re-imagined Doctor Who.
To be Continued…