Sherlock Holmes and Watson are hired by Pope Leo XIII to recover stolen books containing information about mystical beasts. Their investigation leads them to a mysterious man called the Doctor, assisted by two women, Ace and Bernice.
Together the heroes uncover an plot to conquer an alien world and unleash a terrible evil, one of the Great Old Ones. This is a case that the public has been unaware of…until now.
This one of my favourite Doctor Who New Adventure books, seamlessly combing the worlds of two fictional characters. It helps that much of this book is told from the perspective of Watson, detailing it as he would any other of Holmes’ cases.
Initially Holmes is in his element, using his deductive powers to uncover what is going on. Over the course of the story, as increasingly other-worldly elements are revealed, his gifts leave him. He simply doesn’t have the experience or context to understand what is happening.
In this latter half it is the Doctor who takes over as the main character. This helps the book gradually shift from a Sherlock Holmes story to a Doctor Who adventure. Both characters are treated with equal respect, make it gratifying for fans of both.
Amusingly this appears to be the story alluded to in the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’ where the detective declared that the world wasn’t yet ready to know about a case involving a giant rat of Sumatra (in fact it wasn’t a rat but an alien beast).
The revelation of Lovercraftian monsters is a good twist, further entangling the mythologies of the various fictional properties. Here the mad god Azathoth is an alien being from a previous universe, served by the Shlangii, Mi-go in all but name.
Thoroughly entertaining with a clever conclusion this is a story that would make a great television adventure. The BBC could even try to modernise it to create a cross-over with their current ‘Holmes’ series.
This story explains the meeting between the Doctor and what should be a fictional character by revealing that Holmes is just the name used in the stories written by Watson (with Arthur Conan Doyle’s help). Since this is another of those stories we never find out who he and Watson really are.
Player characters could meet other characters who serve as the inspiration for famous fictional characters. They might be quite surprised to find out the true nature of these people. It could also be amusing for the player characters themselves to serve as inspiration for famous writers.
If you accept this book as canon then player characters can have adventures of their own with Holmes and Watson. After the events of this story might the great detective try to fill the gap in his knowledge and so be eager to help the characters in pursuit of the alien?
This adventure reveals two locations that characters might visit while in Victorian London; the Diogenes Club and the Library of St. John the Beheaded.
The Diogenes Club is a gentlemen club frequented by notable members of London’s elite. Amongst the bankers, civil servants and secret agents you’ll also find several incarnations of the Doctor. Apparently the 7th Doctor likes to annoy the 3rd Doctor by revealing the solution to cross-word puzzles.
Player characters could become members or have a patron at the club. Their investigations might take them to the Diogenese Club in order to speak to a member. While eccentricity is tolerated bad manners are not.
The Library of St. John the Beheaded is a great source of forbidden information. Here it begins the whole adventure, the stolen books revealing how to reach the alien planet of Ry’leh.
‘The Empire of Glass’ reveals that Irving Braxiatel (last seen in ‘Theatre of War’) founded the building. It would seem that he likes to have a place to collect information throughout the universe and time.
The 1st Doctor called upon the services of the library to obtain the journals of Signor Holmes, something he didn’t get around to until his 7th incarnation. Nonetheless player characters might use the library to gather information for them in eras before the internet.
Player characters could work for the library, tasked with obtaining books and documents for their patrons. This is more interesting as it sounds, since it could take them around the world and see them in competition with unscrupulous collectors and their agents.
Alternatively they might run into others working for library and see fit to help them in their quest. The murder of such a collector would make a good start for an adventure. What book were they after that required their death?
Developing on from the references in ‘The Pit’ and ‘White Darkness’ we learn that the Lovecraftian Great Old Ones survived the end of the previous universe by sidestepping into a parallel dimension.
Could the alternative realities seen in ‘Inferno’ and ‘Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel’ be created for powerful entities’ to use as escape routes? This would tie into the Bernice Summerfield book ‘Dead Romance’ where the Time Lords escape into a pocket dimension.
The Trickster from ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ and the Time Beetle from ‘Turn Left’ could be in the employee of these powerful beings, since their agenda seems to be create alternative realities.
The player characters might unwittingly use this escape route themselves. Following an adventure in a parallel reality they might return to find that they’ve slipped into the universe that will follow ours.
The difference in physical laws is the stated reason that the Great Old Ones are so alien and powerful and so player characters might find themselves similarly empowered. Would they enjoy their new gifts or give them up in an attempt to return to their own universe?
Like ‘The Left-Handed Hummingbird’ history is used as a weapon to defeat the villain. Here the Doctor causes the portal leading to Earth to open in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906, killing Azathoth. This is a good example of how the player characters can use time travel to their advantage, selecting exactly the right time and place to confront their opponent.
It does leave the time travellers stranded, as the TARDIS was left in 1887. In a very clever scene the Doctor bids farewell to the others as he makes the long journey back to London to collect the TARDIS.
The second he is out of sight the TARDIS materialises, the Doctor several months older. He is then able to return Holmes and Watson to their rightful place in time, meaning that temporarily the TARDIS exists in London in two different places at the same time. ‘The Haunting of Thomas Brewster’ is a further exploration of the mind bending possibilities of multiple versions of the same TARDIS.
Player characters might try to work out a system where they have a back up TARDIS if they are willing to jump through some hoops. For example a player character able to pilot the TARDIS is left in the year 2000. The rest take the TARDIS back to 1900 where they leave the ship in secure, prearranged location.
In 2000 the player character recovers the TARDIS and rejoins the group in 1900. The group now have an emergency TARDIS stored away for that hundred year period. If they become stranded they can simply recover it. As long as they eventually return it for the character in 2000 to collect the time line is preserved.