Marvel’s ‘Ultimate’ line was very successful in its early years at refining characters to their core. The advantage they had was that they could draw upon decades of material, picking only the best elements to introduce into their re-imagining, will foreknowledge of how plots would unfold.
When the Doctor was first introduced he was travelling with his Grand daughter. This particular story thread was dropped very quickly so can it be consider essential? Does it take away from the mystique of the Doctor to have a relative travelling with him or does it help humanise him?
With greater control over the plot, and players who are willing to see things through, this particular plot can be given increased significance, exploring the bond between the relatives and desire to protect each other being used as a good source of motivation.
Looking at this big picture I feel this plot thread could be dropped as it is not truly essential to Doctor Who. While it is entirely possible that a series could run with the Doctor travelling on his own companions are a long running element and allow for more players so I think this makes them essential.
What the ever changing cast of companions show is that no particular character is essential. This gives players the freedom to make their own characters. The Doctor might reference previous travelling companions but the player character doesn’t need to fill their shoes.
That is not to say that past companions can’t be re-imagined. The freedom of the game allows for interesting combinations that just weren’t possible in the real world. What would a game be like with Jamie and Sarah Jane Smith together with the Doctor? What about Harry Sullivan and Rose or Tegan, K9 and Ben?
Each companion could be met for the ‘first time’ in any order. Their history on the show doesn’t need to be adhered to. Maybe Tegan continues travelling with the Doctor until killed on Spiridon or Jamie stays in 1970s London to join UNIT.
When picking companions and deciding their plot lines think about how this will affect the nature of the Doctor. His interactions with them shaped how we viewed him as a person. When he left Susan behind we felt his sadness, when Jo Grant left we recognised the emotional bond he made with her and when Adric died we saw that travelling with the Doctor is dangerous.
Removing these elements or introducing them in a different order with undoubtedly affect how the Doctor’s character develops. The advantage of having an established roster of companions is that a games master can have a general idea of how they will interact with the main character.
What of the Doctor’s villains and enemies? It is often said a man is defined by his enemies but which ones are essential to Doctor Who? Which ones would make it feel completely different if they didn’t exist?
I would venture to say that none of them are essential. The fact that a Doctor Who story doesn’t have to have a previous opponent returning to make it feel like a Doctor Who story indicates to me that a daring games master could wipe the slate clean.
This would have the advantage of making exploring the universe truly a voyage of discovery. Players would have no idea what their characters would be facing, unable to use any of the tactics they’ve gathered from the show.
Which maybe a problem. Part of the fun of running a Dr Who rpg is having the player characters face off against famous faces. They might not be essential but they can be important.
The Master wasn’t introduced until the Doctor’s third incarnation but apparently knew him from his early days. Given the chance to go back and begin again could his character be given more weight by being introduced from day 1?
For players willing to avoid having their characters act on foreknowledge the Master could be introduced on friendly terms, with their different outlook on life eventually driving them apart. Did the Master betray the Doctor or did he betray the Master?
With room to develop the Master games masters don’t have to fall into the trap that the show did, having the villain motivated purely by a desire to spring traps on the main character. All too often it seemed the Master’s plans were entirely focused on the Doctor.
Here the Master can be given his own agenda and goals. This would help give the feeling that the Master has a life outside of his encounters with the Doctor. Initially the Doctor could just stumble across the Master’s plan and sabotage his efforts.
This could lead to a character arc, where the Master gradually realises that in order to succeed he needs to eliminate the rogue element of the Doctor. His plans can then incorporate means to prevent the Doctor from spoiling things.
Much of the characterisation and nature of the Master will depend on your reinterpretation of Doctor. An important aspect of the Master is his shared background with the Doctor, otherwise he is just another evil genius.
If the Doctor is an inventor maybe the Master was a rival who stole his designs. If they are from the future maybe the Master is the ruler of the dystopian society and is trying to prevent the Doctor from taking away his control. If they are elemental beings maybe the Master works against the natural order of time.
The Master acts as a dark mirror to the Doctor. Whatever aspects he has the Master possesses, although often in a twisted manner. They should be close enough that in another world they might have been friends.
Hypnotism would seem to be an essential aspect of the Master, the ability to bend people to his will. He is characterised by a belief in his own superiority and a certain element of sophistication.
Beyond that his methods and nature are free to be re-interpreted. Will he kill in cold-blood using his bare hands or through hired mercenaries? Is he obsessed with technology, using robots to carry out his bidding or is he a biologist, creating viruses to wipe out his enemies? Is he the Doctor’s brother, father or son? Could he even be a future incarnation of the Doctor or from a parallel reality?
Next we’ll look at who else is essential to the Doctor Who universe.