Ace stumbles upon a hole in reality taking her to the real England, where she comes to the attention of the criminal Dr Rix. Captured Ace discovers Rix has a TARDIS control circuits in his basement.
This reveals the truth about the Strange England, it is an artificial environment, constructed by a dying Time Lord, Galah, in her TARDIS. The Doctor and his companions have destabilised its programming.
Learning of its existence Dr Rix and his criminal gang attempt to take control of the virtual world. Under his influence the realm becomes a virtual hell. The Doctor must team up with Galah to rid the TARDIS of this evil presence.
This is Doctor Who meets the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It even has a holographic character, farmer Arthur, dissolving outside the influence of the TARDIS. Presented as a puzzle, much as ‘Conudrum’ does, working out the true nature of their environment is half the story.
I particularly enjoyed the Quark, a dark reflection of the Doctor. Dressed as a funeral director he was part of the TARDIS program, designed to eliminate errors. Believing the intruders to be a virus the monsters were designed to eliminate them.
Dr Rix provided real menace, the worst person in the world to gain power over a TARDIS. Often in Doctor Who it is the alien element that is preying on humanity, here we see that it can work the other way round.
The book itself provides a good horror based Doctor Who story, even if it lacks depth or development for the characters. By no means an essential read but certainly entertaining.
We learn a lot about the capabilities of a TARDIS. We’ve long known it can reconfigure its interior, as well as its exterior, and possesses a degree of intelligence. Here we find that it can create full blow virtual environment with self-aware holographic characters.
The recent series has shown some part of this, especially in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ which showed the TARDIS projecting a holographic image of Amelia Pond for the Doctor to interact with.
It could be interesting if a group of player characters had a similarly intricate interior to their TARDIS. Anyone who is skilled with the Architectural Configuration Program (ACP) can create a similar environment.
Might they have replica of characters home town? Would they fill it with past companions to give them advice? Given the fact that the interior of the TARDIS can be much bigger than its exterior could they create whole cities or planets using the ACP?
In a campaign without a Time Lord the TARDIS could be programmed with virtual pilots. Companions might be unaware that the Time Lord or Time Lords inside the TARDIS aren’t real, little suspecting the reason they never leave the time ship is because they would just fade away.
Such a TARDIS might be a relic from the Time War. The original crew, knowing that they were about to die transferring their minds into their ship. It now seeks out likely champions who can continue to protect time in Gallifreys absence.
A twist for a new campaign is if the player characters find out their their world isn’t real. They could question whether they are just part of the program or are they real, brought into the TARDIS and raised there for some reason? If they are holograms perhaps a wrist worn projector could allow them to explore outside the ship.
An adventure could be built around the player characters waking up in a strange environment. Investigating they find that they are still inside the TARDIS but someone has taken control of the ACP. Who is it and what do they want? Can the crew find their way to the central console room before the environment kills them?
This story also has a Time Lord cheat death by merging her mind with the TARDIS. In effect it becomes her body, transforming into living tissue. This can be a good escape clause for Time Lord characters who have run out of regenerations.
Unlike the 8th Doctor companion Compassion this doesn’t seem to give the Time Lord the ability to travel in space and time. The resulting person is effectively human and there is no suggestion that any of the TARDIS abilities remain.
This is therefore a huge sacrifice, costing the Time Lord both his nature and his time ship. Unless the group has more than one TARDIS this will likely mean that the Time Lord will be trapped in which ever period of time he is in.
Kind games masters may wish to allow the character to move a small group of people through the Time Vortex, although the process should be exhausting and inaccurate. A remnant of the chameleon circuit could let them change their appearance to better fit in with the native population.
Aside from this the Time Lord now only has one life and physically matches the species the TARDIS modelled itself on. This is their final life and they better make the most of it.
Introduced in this book is the idea that the Doctor would be aware if anything happened to his companions. This is touched upon in subsequent books and helps establish that there is a strong connection between the Doctor and his companions.
I felt that this could be modelled as a trait.
Companion Sense [Special Good Trait – Prerequisite: Time Lord]
A Time Lord shares his telepathic gift with his companions via his time ship. Over time this mental link allows him to subconsciously gain insight into their general location and general well being. If they move to another time period or planet he is aware of this change, if they become injured he feels their pain.
To check up on their status a Time Lord must concentrate, sorting through his own feelings and instincts to find the link to his companions. This ability only extends to companions who are currently travelling with him.
This costs 2 character point.
The character is informed whenever there is a great change in the companions location or physical well being. This ability also gives them a +3 to any checks when trying to determine where the companion is or trying to establish their current mental and physical status.