Iceberg

OVERVIEW

icebergThe events in this book happen at the same time as ‘Birthright.’ It reveals that he Doctor deliberately separated the TARDIS to spend some time away from his companions. Arriving in a Jade Pagoda, a subsection of the TARDIS, on the SS Elysium in the near future setting (at the time of print) of 2006 he finds that he is near the Antarctic, the site of his first encounter with the Cybermen.

The Cybermen are still there, hoping to sabotage a desperate bid to prevent the Earth’s magnetic fields from reversing. The Doctor is assisted his mission to stop them by Ruby, a investigative journalist not too dissimilar from Sarah Jane Smith.

Iceberg’ gets a lot of bad press for being slow and not featuring the Doctor until near the second half of the story. I tend to read books in large chunks so this didn’t bother me. The first half gives the reader time to become familiar with the supporting cast and immerse themselves in both life on the cruise ship and project FLIPback.

This was the first New Adventure to prominently feature one of the classic series monsters and the Cybermen were very effective. By returning to the scene of their first encounter with the Doctor we are reminded of their cold inhumanity. The scenes of them capturing the cruise ship and converting the crew and passengers are chilling, especially as we’ve taken the time to get to know these people.

Like ‘The Highest Science’ we get a sense of the real world and the horror of Doctor Who colliding as people initially think the Cybermen are in fancy dress until they come under attack.

The knowledge that the Cybermen are involved is also used to wrong foot the reader. Early in the story Ruby is in the cargo hold and finds the mysterious artist on board has a large selection of prosthetic limbs.

This leads the reader to believe that the artist has some connection to the Cybermen and that these limbs will somehow be used as part of the conversion process. In fact they are just part of his latest art project and has a poignant connection to a tragedy in Ruby’s own past.

While ‘Birthright’ appears to be a template for the Bernice Summerfield series ‘Iceberg’  could be a template for the companion-less 7th Doctor audios by Big Finish. The Doctor makes his presence known, takes on a temporary assistant and than moves on before they get a chance to go with him.

PLOT

Games masters who want to write sequels to earlier Doctor Who stories would do well to look to ‘Iceberg’ for how this can be done. Like ‘The Tenth Planet’ much of the action is set a science base in the Antarctic with the Cybermen lurking nearby.

We get references what happened to the survivors of the first Cybermen story and how those events impacted the rest of the world. Ruby is aware of them thanks to Isobel Watkins from ‘The Invasion’, tying in another Cyberman story.

It is kept fresh both by including the Cruise ship and having it be the 7th Doctor who is being reminded of an adventure far in his past. Not only was ‘The Tenth Planet’ the first story where he met the Cybermen but also the first time he regenerated.

Having an adventure follow on from an earlier adventure not only lets you revisit the events but invoke the themes. In this particular story we can’t help but be reminded of how the first Doctor died and wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

The Cybermen here are in line with ‘The Invasion’. Still largely organic they use the low temperature of the Antarctic to store spare body and organ parts. This is a good reminder that they aren’t robots.

A Cyberman doesn’t have to replace his organs with artificial replacements. When technology is scarce a healthy victim could provide the necessary transplant organs to keep a valued Cyberman alive.

If the player characters began investigating a series of mutilated bodies they might be surprised to find that a Cyberman is responsible. This could even enhance the body horror aspect of the race, giving them a more Frankenstein’s monster appearance, a patchwork of body parts from different people.

These Cybermen use hypnotic gas to control subjects and speed up the cyber conversion process. This is very much an early version of what occurred in  ‘The Age of Steel’, where mind control was also used to take control of large sections of the population.

At this point in their time line the Cybermen stranded in the Antarctic have witnessed the destruction of Mondas. It is no surprise that this provides an extra motivation to capture Earth.

When dealing with a non-time travelling race it can be useful to think about where in their history the player characters are meeting them. For species that change frequently, as the Cybermen do, it can have a big impact on their appearance and capabilities, but all species will be affected by the events around them.

Think about their successes and their failures. How would this affect their attitude? Their goals? With the blessing of foreknowledge you can also think about what happens before their next televised adventure.

The discovery that the Doctor split the TARDIS apart to enjoy a holiday raises some questions. It would suggest that this can be done at will, although in ‘Birthright’ the time ship barely survives the experience and the Jade Pagoda has a limited time it can spend from the main body of the TARDIS.

Still, in the right circumstances this could be used by a group wishing to split up through space and time. The Time Lord could despatch individual sections of the time ship to different time zones.

The other player characters would only need to ensure that they are back in their section of the TARDIS by the time it needs to re-join. It also means that their individual adventures are concurrent even if they are in the past or the future relative to each other.

Finally the Antarctic shows how a harsh environment can add a lot of character to an adventure. It gives player characters something else to think about, acts as a way to confine them (since they can’t get far in extreme temperatures) and monsters who are immune to the conditions immediately demonstrate an area in which they are superior to the player characters.

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2 Responses to Iceberg

  1. Matthew C says:

    It was a little graphic. I don’t think we really needed to know that Cybermen have had their genitals cut off.

    Have you read David Banks’ book about the history of the Cybermen?

  2. etheruk1 says:

    I have. You can certainly tell they were written by the same author. There is the same attempt to tie all the Cybermen appearances together and explore their nature. It is incredibly detailed (although a little dry) and it is hard to imagine that a similar indepth examination of a Doctor Who monster would see publication today.

    At the time, when it was still difficult to get some of the earlier Cybermen stories, it was a great glimpse at their early days.It is surprising he was given such free reign to introduce new ideas to the mythology, particularly the sections on their prehistory.

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