The Left-Handed Hummingbird

Overview

lefthandedThe 3rd in the ‘Alternate Universe Saga’, although it can be read in isolation, the Doctor and his companions encounter Christian Alvarez. He claims that their future selves aided him in the past against the mysterious Blue, a psionic entity that inspires and provokes violence and death, including the assassination of John Lennon.

In hunting down the Blue the TARDIS crew travel back to the 1960s to encounter UNIT’s Paranormal Division. The Blue is revealed to be a Aztec called Huitzilin, transformed after being exposed to a Exxilon spacecraft. He forms a bond with the Doctor and threatens to replace him.

Everything culminates on the Titanic while it is sinking with the Doctor fighting for his very existence.

This felt like a very far reaching Doctor Who adventure, with a threat from Earth’s past that had been influence history for centuries and forcing the main characters to travel backwards and forwards in time just to keep up.

This really shows the possibilities of Doctor Who fiction. We aren’t restricted to one particular place or time. There are few stories with such diverse locations but the story never lets you forget the central drive, to locate and eliminate the threat of the Blue.

One of my strongest memories of this book was the danger posed to the Doctor. Here was an entity that had the power to replace him. It was scary thought that not only could the Doctor vanish but a force of terrible evil would take his place.

The idea of introducing a character who has already been through the adventure the Doctor and his companions are about to experience is not to dissimilar to the setup in ‘The Impossible Astronaut.’

I can’t be sure that this is the first Doctor Who work of fiction to link the Doctor to the Titanic  it certainly does it in a memorable way. ‘Rose’ and ‘Voyage of the Damned’ both showed the potential of linking the Doctor to the ill-fated ship.

Which is appropriate as much of the story feels as if the main characters are trying to fight history. Not only are events already in motion but they’ve already happened before the Doctor, Ace and Bernice have even begun their adventure.

The Blue has already had a big impact on moments in history we’re acutely aware have to happen the tension is incredibly high by the climax of the story, taking place on a ship we know has to sink with so many people we know the Doctor can’t save.

The Left-Handed Hummingbird’ is well worth seeking out even if you have no desire to read the rest of the books in this saga. All that you really need to know is some unknown enemy of the Doctor is altering time to put him in danger.

Plot

This book greatly influenced by view of time travel in Doctor Who and is an excellent guide to how to run an adventure where the player characters make frequent use of their TARDIS.

Having a NPC tell the main characters that they’ll help his younger self is a good way to build anticipation early in the story and his a hook they can’t ignore. In order to preserve history they have to go back and help the NPC, who won’t know them when they first meet.

This can allow you to foreshadow some of the events ahead, giving them some idea of what they are facing. If you want to build dread you can have the NPC tell a character he is so sorry for what is about to happen to them.

For more on this approach to adventure design refer to the BBC book ‘Festival of Death’.

At one point Ace muses on the frequent trips through time and wonders about all the TARDISs that are already out there, past and future versions of her scattered through time.

In a long running campaign this is an idea you can explore, with characters having to avoid bumping into earlier and later incarnations of themselves. They might even be confused when they find their TARDIS has apparently moved from where they left it, only to realise is a TARDIS from the their past or future.

The Doctor falls foul of the UNIT paranormal division. Since they don’t know who he is at that particular junction in history they arrest and study him. This is an example of changing the established relationship between characters by having player characters meeting them at different points in history.

Although the Doctor later alerts the Brigadier to the cruel behaviour of the division and has them shut down it would be interesting to use them in an adventure, either before this story or after it is re-established with new personnel.

This could lead to a horror themed adventure or campaign. It stands to reason that if UNIT accepted the existence of alien life they may be open to the possibility that ghosts, vampires and demons might also exist.

Members of this division could be despatched to haunted houses to confirm the existence of spirits, investigate whether a series of deaths are linked to vampires or werewolves and tangle with cultists trying to use demons as weapons of mass destruction.

Since this is Doctor Who there would need to be a scientific explanation for whatever they encounter but there are enough alien species that have a supernatural appearance that it makes little difference what their actual origin is.

If you wish to have division shut down the members could go rogue, unwilling to give up their missions. After all, they are the only ones who know the true evil that lurks out there. Only they have have the skills to stop them, even if it means being hunted by your own people.

Huitzilin is an example of how to run a psionic enemy. Initially incorporeal he is scary because he can influence and possess others at will, making it hard to guard against him. Not only that but his powers inspire others to worship him, meaning the characters also have to beware of cultists.

His undoing is in achieving his goal, to gain a physical body. Once he is solid he is vulnerable and promptly killed by Christian. This is not unlike ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ where the villain, who was undefeatable in the world of dreams, is easily beaten once in the real world.

In an adventure this can be a nice cathartic climax of a story. Just when the player characters think the villain has won by achieving their goal they realise that the villain is vulnerable, giving them the chance to take them down.

Speaking of climaxes I mentioned how well these final scenes on the Titanic work. Remember that this game allows you to have scenes take place against the biggest events in all of history.

You can have events happen during the German bombing of London, the eruption of Java in the 19th century or in Greece under invasion from the Persians. You can even use future events from Doctor Who such as the war with Mars or the invasion of the Daleks.

You use this events to heighten the tension. Not only do they have to defeat the villain they need to avoid being killed by what is going on around them.

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