A Fortean flicker is randomly moving objects through time and space, presenting a hazard to the universe. The Doctor and Bernice track it down to the legendary planet of Sakkrat, rumoured to hold the ‘highest science’.
The time travellers find themselves in a tricky situation as the flicker has also brought a group of London train commuters and a war-like race of humanoid turtles, the Chelonians, to the planet. Worse still one of the universes most notorious criminals, Sheldukher, has brought his crew to the planet looking for the highest science.
This is the story that ‘Planet of the Dead’ is very loosely based on (both are written by Gareth Roberts) but share little in common other than a group of commuters being unexpectedly stranded on an alien world.
It is the train commuters that provides one of the strongest elements of this story. There is a real sense of real people from the real world being dropped into the craziness of a Doctor Who adventure.
The other part is the Chelonians, great original creations that reappeared several times in the novels. They are a distinctive alien race, motivated by a belief that humans are parasites that need to be wiped out and using cybernetics to overcome some of the more humorous aspects of their appearance.
The plot is entertaining and has some surprising twists at the end, particularly the nature of the planet. It ends with the stranded humans and Chelonians placed in stasis by the Doctor, a loose end that wasn’t addressed until, appropriately enough, ‘Happy Endings’.
The Fortean flicker, by its nature, causes unlikely things to happen. Phenomena with similar characteristics can be used to excuse the implausibility of an adventure. Weird things are to be expected.
Not only is the flicker the hook for the story but it remains an important element throughout. Discovering the cause of the flicker and its reason for being is key to discovering just what the planet is. It turns out the flicker is anything but a natural phenomena.
In this adventure it creates puts a group of ordinary people in direct conflict with alien soldiers. Things wouldn’t be as interesting if the humans had also been soldiers (whether they be space-age warriors or UNIT officers) because they’d have the skills to deal with the situation. It is the unlikely combinations that create the most interesting results.
This would be a good way for a random group of player characters to meet and become companions. Placed in an alien, hostile environment they’d have no choice but to work together to survive.
Protecting the humans from the Chelonians would be enough for an adventure but ‘The Highest Science’ also throws in Sheldukher and his fellow criminals. It is very obvious he is not the type of person who should be allowed to get the mystical treasure that is supposedly on the planet.
Stopping him from achieving his goal divides the Doctor’s attention. This tactic can be used to make things more hectic in an adventure and encourage player characters to assume different responsibilities.
There is a theme of genetic manipulation and the abuse of technology in this story. From the dangerous Bubbleshake drink which almost kills Bernice to Cell, a being engineered to be super-smart but ends up in constant pain as a result.
The willingness to alter bodies and forcibly control others only supports the Chelonians view of humanity as a race that is rapidly self-destructing and take the rest of the universe with them. This contrasts with the innocent commuters from the 20th century.
An indication that if you want your adventure to critique the worst aspects of humanity it is worth remembering that Doctor Who always tries to show that at least some people are good. This can even be allowing a character to show mercy to a being in pain by letting it die, as Bernice does with Cell.
Not all adventures will end neatly. You can make the most of the time travel element of the game by keeping a note of the loose ends and allowing the player characters to return and fix things later.
Awareness: 5, Coordination, 3, Ingenuity: 3, Presence: 4, Resolve: 5, Strength: 5
Brave (Minor Good Trait), Keen Senses (Major Good Trait), Technically Adept (minor good trait), By the Book: Military regulations (minor bad trait), Obligation: To the Empire (major bad trait), Cyborg (Special Good Trait), Armour (alien special major good trait), Natural Weapon (razor sharp beak) 7 damage
Chelonian Gun: L [4/L/L]
Fighting: 2, Marksmanship: 4, Science: 2, Survival: 3, Technology: 2, Transport: 2
The Chelonians are a race of up-right turtles, standing around waist high to human. Well-versed in cybernetics they made themselves into soldiers, their Empire spreading across the stars.
Hermaphrodites giving birth was an important facet of their culture, with great honour bestowed upon those who laid eggs on the battlefield. The destruction of these eggs was seen as a great tragedy.
Coloured stripes on their shells denoted rank. Cybernetics not only provided enhanced skill with their weapons and bolstered their natural armour but also enhanced their senses, making them very aware of their surroundings. In extreme situations Chelonians could be turned into walking bombs.
Culturally the Chelonian are forbidden from killing each other. The fact that humans do kill each other only further convinces the Chelonians that they aren’t worthy of life. Wiping out humanity is seen as the only way to protect worlds from having its resources stripped away and its ecology poisoned.
Later the Chelonians would have their morale shaken after a serious of conflicts with superior humanoids. Renouncing violence they eventually became known as skilled flower arrangers.
Chelonians make a good stand in when you require a race of soldiers or warriors. They are motivated by a morality that condemns humanity as evil. History shows that they can eventually be shown that this is not the case but could the player characters convince them if they met during a period before their conversion?
I hope you are going to do a post on The Pit!
Yes, that is next on my agenda. It does seem a controversial book.
I love it, but everybody else seems to hate it.
It has to be the only Doctor Who book that captures the spirit of Lovecraft; with even the Doctor crushed by the overwhelming sense of cosmic despair.