With the Doctor missing the two companions must deal with an alien invasion from the Charrl, migrating from Ant’ykhon to Earth. Ace is aided by the mysterious Muldwych that might very well be a future incarnation of the Doctor.
This story could almost be seen as a trial run for the Doctor-less New Adventure and Bernice Summerfield books. Like ‘Eternity Weeps’ it appears on the surface as if the Doctor doesn’t have much of a presence.
In truth he casts a shadow over proceedings. You get the feeling that the Doctor has left his mark on time but remains elusive. I particularly remember how one of the characters spends centuries travelling along the Slow path, always just missing an actual encounter with the Time Lord.
The story gives both companions a chance to prove that they are capable people without the Doctor on hand to save them. It is up to them not only to survive but solve the mystery, stop the threat and fix the TARDIS.
Until now Bernice had struggled to make a real impact, often having her mind controlled or her personality otherwise altered. Here we see her develop into the character that would have her own line of audio adventures with Big Finish. Resourceful, intelligent and funny Bernice makes the most of the nineteen hundreds.
Ace also grows beyond just being an angry soldier. For the first time in a while she has to think the same way as the Doctor and find a solution that doesn’t involve violence. This could be seen as the first steps to her eventually leaving the Doctor to travel on her own through time.
There are also some clever use of time travel, that would not have been out of place in the recent series of Doctor Who. Most notably we have the revelation that Ant’ykhon is in fact Earth in the far future. Reminiscent of ‘The Mysterious Planet’ it packs a punch and fits in nicely with Muldwych, the Doctor’s own future.
The Charrl, a race of humanoid insects, are a great addition to the Doctor Who universe. Their ability to control mammals by implanting them with grubs is chilling and has its basis in the natural kingdom.
‘Birthright’ is a distinctive Doctor Who-lite episode in book form and deservedly received an audio adaptation.
The most obvious part of this story that is ripe for exploration in a campaign is Ant’ykhon itself. This is apparently Earth in the year 22,000. What remains of humanity have become hairy brutes. The Charrl live in immense hives, each one holding up to 5,000 members.
This is a harsh environment. Perfect for post-apocalyptic or ‘Conan the Barbarian’ style adventures. Earth is changed so much that it is no surprise that Ace thought she was on an alien planet and so might player characters if they don’t consult the TARDIS readout. Only when they stumble upon remnants of Earth’s history will they realise the horrible truth of where they are.
Muldwych can act as a wise man, giving the player characters advice on how to survive in this harsh world. They should be careful not to trust him to much. Muldwych is desperate to leave and might even steal their TARDIS.
Player characters could make contact with the barbaric humans and lead them to reclaim their planet. That is if the tribal humans don’t attack them first. With the meagre resources available reclaiming Earth might take several adventures.
‘Birthright’ is another example of having two time zones within the same story. Like ‘Day of the Daleks’ or ‘Mawdryn Undead’ each area impacts on the other, with characters travelling between the two.
Such adventures bring the time travelling aspect to the forefront. It isn’t just used to get the player characters to the start of the adventure but continue to shape events and show how the whole of time is affected by these interactions.
During the book we learn about how the Doctor has prepared for the future. He opens a bank account in 1868 to supply funds for a number of companions (including Susan, Sarah Jane, Mel Bush and Bernice Summerfield).
While most Doctor Who adventures don’t focus on financial gain this kind of forward planning can be extremely useful, especially if a companion is stranded in the past without access to funds.
This could be the focus of an entire adventure, having player characters travel through time to plant resources that might be useful in their personal future and to any companions who come after them.
We also have the Doctor save a man called Ernie Wright from the being hung. This is the ancestor of either Barbara or Polly Wright, thus ensuring their existence. If the player characters take part in similar events they tie themselves to the history of previous companions, becoming part of the reason they exist.
Introduced in this adventure is the Sacred Order of the New Dawn. Apparently began in the 13th century they strive to improve humanity by wiping away what they consider to be the worst aspects and encouraging the best.
With a reach that spans the globe player characters might run into them anywhere and any when. Their goal to manipulate humanity, no matter the cost, will put them at odds with player characters who wish to preserve history.
For a more conspiratorial game it can be revealed that certain historical events were caused by the Sacred Order of the New Dawn. Indeed, famous figures could be members, making the player characters wonder how deep the conspiracy runs.
Lastly this adventure can provide a model of what to do if the Time Lord player is not available. Simply have his character go to his room and disassemble the TARDIS. When he is available again simply have him step out of his room as if nothing has happened (even if he has just been through his own adventure, like ‘Iceberg’).