Things go wrong when the STS is linked to another solar system. The tunnels are linked via trans-dimensions, allowing rapid travel but also allowing an alien intelligence to invade. Luckily the Doctor is aided by an artificial intelligence that has developed naturally within the subway system and Brigadier’s descendant Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart.
‘Transit’, written by classic Who writer Ben Aaronovitch, is a story of big ideas. It suffers from having the Doctor separated from Bernice early on (not to mention she ends up possessed for most of the book) with the focus shifting to a number of different supporting cast members.
What makes it enjoyable is the setting. Claustrophobic, dark tunnels swarming with monsters. I also found the references to the Earth/Mars war intriguing. The fall-out from this event and the consequences on those that fought underscores the technological developments that now allow humanity to reach for the stars by train.
Trains are one area that Doctor Who hasn’t really explored. Although we were teased with the prospect of a train based adventure in ‘The Big Bang’ and the 6th Doctor audio ‘The Nowhere Place’ touched on it this is the first story to really take advantage of the location.
In the process it couples it with the idea of a subway system that links planets. This is something that would make for a unique setting for an adventure. It is ripe with potential with everything from political dissidents, archaeologists travelling to Mars, scientists travelling to Neptune to conduct secret experiments and diplomats heading for a confidential talks with species from other star systems.
Passengers are trapped on board for the duration of the trip. If anything goes wrong it will be up to the player characters to solve it, whether it be defending the train from attackers or finding out which passenger is a murderer.
Using the trains is a way for the player characters to travel all over the solar system (if they don’t risk using their TARDIS). An adventure could take in several planets within the same game and revolve around events that affect the whole Sol system.
The subway is also used as a metaphor for a body (the invading monsters spreading like a virus through the system) and a computer network (the trains carrying information that allowed the AI to come into existence).
This is an example of how to build an adventure around a metaphor. By thinking of what a setting is similar to further elements might occur to you. It can also help players by thinking in the same terms.
If they see the linked subway as a computer network they could trying ‘rebooting it’. If they see it as a body they could use robot drones as anti-bodies to fight the infection of the invading monsters.
The description of the STS is very similar to the London underground (complete with advertisements and graffiti). It is easier for players to visualise even a futuristic setting if they have something that resembles aspects of their contemporary world.
The details of the cybernetic implants, still possessed by those who fought in the Earth/Mars war, demonstrates how willing mankind is to dehumanise themselves in order to win.
In a scene that highlights the danger of these cybernetics a veteran almost kills someone just because they think of it. Fortunately he realises what he has done and able to countermand the order in time.
The Doctor spends some time catching up to a possessed Bernice only to find that she was a decoy. When you’re running an adventure sometimes you’ll want the player characters to fail and despite the odds they’ll still succeed. Using a decoy or deception is a way to keep things on track if used sparingly. You don’t want to constantly rob the players of their victory.
Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart is an example of encountering descendants of the Doctor’s former companions. This is a good background for NPCs or player characters that ties them to the setting without making them play a pre-designed character.
Introduced in ‘Cat’s Cradle:Warhead’ the Doctor’s house in Kent still exists in 2109. Located on Allen road (graffiti artists like to change this to ‘Alien road’) the house is routinely inhabited by past and future incarnations of the Doctor.
Having a stable safe haven is an intriguing idea from the Virgin novels, although later television episodes would indicate the Doctor never had a house. It certainly makes sense that he’d want to have a place to live should he once again loose access to the TARDIS.
Sharing the house with other incarnations without crossing paths can be a fun challenge for the player characters. It could lead to confusing conversations with the neighbours who might let slip some details about the player characters future.
During the story we learn that the Doctor keeps track of how much property damage he is allowed during an adventure. His companions contribute to half of this score. Player characters could impose the same limit on themselves, maybe receiving an extra story point or two if they succeed.
The Doctor is able to make people recall their dreams. This probably won’t come up enough for it to be worth its own trait but a games master could allow Time Lord characters to do the same using Presence.
In the novels the Doctor seems to change his eye colour every few pages. This is often used to reflect his mood (even allowing his eyes to turn completely black at one point.) This is notable enough to be a Minor Special Trait.
Not only can it be used for cosmetic readings it could come in useful, say if the character was trying to disguise themselves as someone with a different eye colour. It could also confound any technology that tries to identify people using their eyes.
A resolve or awareness check could be required if the character is trying to duplicate the eyes of a specific species or person. This could be used to trick a eye scanner into unlocking doors or giving the character access to restricted systems.