During the roaring 20’s in Chicago famed gangster Al Capone hires detective Tom Dekker to investigate a new rival, the mysterious Doctor, running a speakeasy named Doc’s Place. Dekker finds that the Doctor is protected by a gun moll named Ace.
Meanwhile Bernice has been despatched to the vampire planet in E-Space (from ‘State of Decay’) to aide Romana. It seems the vampires are returning and someone is attempting to bring the Great Vampire back to life.
While the Doctor hunts a entity named Agnonal that is psychically increasing the tensions between the gangs he is unaware that on Gallifrey a cult plans to release Borusa from his prison.
This story by Terrance Dicks feels slightly old fashioned compared to the earlier novels, using many elements from the show rather than creating something new. It remains an enjoyable adventure and I enjoyed the weaving together of both ‘State of Decay’ and ‘The Five Doctors’, personal favourites.
Those who steep themselves in the lore of the show know that Time Lords and vampires have an entwined history. Who can forget their first glimpses of the mighty Bowships or the Doctor’s statement that it is duty of every Time Lord to fight vampires where ever they are found?
It is a shame that ‘Vampires of Venice’ forgot this, with the Doctor giddy at the prospect of encountering a vampire. It would have been nice to re-establish that their is long history of war between the two species.
For the second book in a row we have an outsiders perspective of the Doctor and his companions, here seen through the eyes of Tom Dekker. We see how odd the Doctor is and how intimidating Ace can be.
It should be noted that this book begins with the Doctor and Ace already settled in Chicago. This is a stark difference to the classic series where almost every adventure would begin with the TARDIS either appearing in the first few moments or the Time Travellers only recently having arrived.
The book format allowed the writers room to include more backstory, creating some more mystery about when the Doctor arrived and what his plans are. I think you can see this approach in the current series, in episodes such as ‘School Reunion’ and ‘Human Nature’.
This book can also be thanked for returning Romana to prominence, in the books and later the audios. Here are her firsts steps towards re-joining Gallifrey and her ultimate ascension to President.
In an unusual move one of the vampires escapes at the end of the story, only for the Doctor to reveal that he has already taken care of it. Indeed the vampire was encountered and defeated by the 5th Doctor in ‘Goth Opera.’ This wouldn’t be the last cross-over between the New Adventure and Missing Adventure range of books.
The 1920s, with its mix of gangsters and prohibition, is a great historical setting for any campaign. There are wealth of television shows and movies that create iconic images that can be used as reference points and give the players a sense of familiarity.
It was a time when even respectable members of society would frequent a speakeasy in the search of a drink. The cash flowing in gave the gangs power, which they used to carve up the city and thumb their nose at the police.
A time of violence and secrets there would be no need to introduce any science fiction elements to provide an exciting historical adventure. Time travellers could be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a police raid or a gang hit.
Any Doctor Who alien or monster would fit in perfectly during this era, either exploiting the unstable environment to their advantage or using their presence to shift the balance of power, should they decide to ally themselves with one gang.
Following the example of Tom Dekker the player characters could find themselves acting as private detectives. This time period is perfect for film noir, where morality is made up of shades of grey rather than black and white.
As previously discussed this adventure begins with the Doctor and Ace already established in Chicago. If you want an adventure to take place over a longer time period and give the player characters access to an established support base this can be a good approach to take.
Begin by explaining what has brought them to their current time and location. Establish that their characters know it will take time and resources to locate and defeat their opponent and give them an idea of how long they’ve been there before the adventure starts.
The players can then explain what their characters have been doing during that time. Will they go undercover? Will they set up a business or establish a social network in the city. Do they want contacts in the police, the underworld or some of other group?
This gives the players a sense of control, allowing for a proactive rather reactive approach to a problem. The games master gets final say on what is reasonable and should always be on the look out for potential plot hooks.
The psychic entity Agonal is blamed not only for the gang violence but also for the Spanish Inquisition, the Reign of Terror and even the first world war. Like ‘The Left-Handed Hummingbird’ this increases the villains reputation by making them responsible for dark periods of history.
While I would be reluctant to overuse this idea, since it makes humanity blameless for anything bad that happens, it can be useful excuse to take time travellers to periods they’d otherwise avoid. Hunting down similar beings influencing humanity gives them a reason to endure the trials of the era.
This book establishes that travelling between N-Space and E-Space isn’t quite as difficult as the Doctor previously indicated. Whether this reflects a mastery of the TARDIS or advances in the understanding of dimensional barriers it does mean that player characters can explore E-Space without becoming trapped.
Here the cult on Gallifrey use a time scoop to capture Agonal. This would serve as a good cliff-hanger for the end of an adventure. Just as they are about to defeat a villain they are snatched away by a time scoop.
Recognising the technology used the player characters must travel to Gallifrey to find out who is responsible for taking the villain and what their aim is. This can lead to the inevitable rematch with the villain.