After you’ve decided on your basic plot for your adventure you might wonder just how you’re going to get the player characters involved. Week after week how do they get themselves caught up in events?
The series has taken many different approaches to this question. When the show started almost every episode began with the time travellers stepping out the TARDIS and into trouble.
Over the years we’ve seen the Doctor become more proficient with his piloting. Now he attempted to give his companions a guided a tour of the universe, although his attempts at tourism often ended in disaster.
Later we saw the Doctor actively pursue adventure. Some episodes and especially the books don’t show the TARDIS arriving, giving the main characters time to establish themselves into the setting.
Picking the right beginning is important for starting the adventure on the right foot. The following are some approaches you can take in your game.
Right Place, Right Time
PCs randomly arrive either during a crisis or just before. They are in the best position to deal with the situation. If this happens frequently player characters can begin to suspect that their TARDIS is deliberately taking them where they need to be.
‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ is an example of this approach. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on Telos just as the Cybermen are awakened. Who knows what would have happened if they hadn’t been there?
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
The opposite of the above. The PCs aren’t in a position to prevent events, just survive. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are involved in important moments in history. It could just be that they are caught unawares of the local customs and actions of the culture.
This works best for historical adventures where the PCs aren’t supposed to interfere with the web of time. Many 1st Doctor stories fit into this category. ‘The Reign of Terror’ and ‘The Romans’ are good examples of this, with the time travellers main objective is to regroup and get back to the TARDIS.
The PCs have selected their destination because of its beauty or interest. This applies equally to both locations and time periods. Whether it is witnessing the end of the world or relaxing in the Eye of Orion the PCs are essentially tourists.
This approach has become more popular in recent years. The 9th, 10th and 11th Doctor seem particularly keen on showing their companions the wonders of the universe, although even the 6th Doctor long sought a relaxing holiday in Blackpool.
The danger of this approach is that you can give the impression that they can’t ever relax if adventure finds them every time. Best to suggest that at least some of the time the PCs find time to relax, although this maybe between games.
‘New Earth’ is a good example of this. The Doctor and Rose are simply exploring the universe before they become involved in events at the hospital. ‘The Pandorica Opens’ also begins with the Doctor trying to show Amy a famed location, only to find a message from River Song.
In this approach the PCs have selected their destination so they can visit an old friend. When and where they go will depend on the person they are meeting. This category covers social visits, rather than those occasions where they respond to requests for help.
The person they are visiting should have some involvement with the events of the adventure. These NPCs can help establish an immediate connection for the PCs, even if the character has only just been introduced in this adventure.
‘The Abominable Snowmen’ and the 2nd Doctor’s visit to UNIT in ‘The Five Doctors’ are examples of this. Rose visiting her mother and Mickey could also fall into this category since this is the motivation to return to the 21st century in several 9th and 10th Doctor stories.
Pulled Off Course
An outside force determines where the TARDIS materialises. The PCs may or may not be aware of this outside influence, especially if they aren’t skilled at piloting. This usually ties into the adventure and raises two important questions. Who has taken them off course and why?
This is good for creating tension and intrigue immediately. If used too frequently PCs may feel that they have no control of their lives. They will treat every location with suspicion and need little reason to want to leave.
‘The Mind Robbers’ and ‘Time and the Rani’ are both examples of this.
The PCs have chosen their destination to solve a mystery. This could be a historical mystery, such as the fate of the Mary Celeste, an unsolved murder or the unexplained such as find out if the Loch Ness monster exists.
This is different from PCs stumbling on a mystery once they arrive. Here that is the whole reason they are there. They may have prepared for the investigation, gathering equipment and doing research before hand.
Taking this approach, especially if the players select the mystery to investigate, can make the PCs much more proactive.
The Doctor Who books are great examples of this, especially ‘The Pit’, where the plot revolves around finding out what happened to a missing planet. ‘Mindwarp’ also begins this way, with the Doctor investigating weapon smuggling.
The PCs have set their sights of conquering evil. Their destination will depend on where and when the opponent is. This could be when they are most vulnerable or when history says the PCs can strike.
This approach is ideal for combat focused characters who wish to take the fight to the enemy. For once they won’t be surprised when an old foe appears. For once they won’t be unprepared.
The 7th Doctor made this category his own. ‘The Curse of Fenric’ and ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ are both good example of this but most of his episodes and books fit.
I’ve discussed this category in my coverage of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. In short the PCs select their destination in order to respond to a cry for help. There are many examples of this and this approach builds instant anticipation about what they might be facing.
Maintenance & Recuperation
Sometimes the characters just need to take care of themselves and their TARDIS. Their destination will be picked either for the resources it offers them or because of its isolation. PCs might be hoping to find spare parts to fix the TARDIS, food supplies or medical treatments.
It can also serve to recover from the trauma of previous adventures. This is different from having a holiday, although it can take that form. The purpose is to take time to make themselves feel better, rather than enjoy their surroundings.
This approach can be taken after intense adventures or long campaign arcs. It gives the opportunity to reflect and recover from what has gone before.
The book form of ‘Human Nature’ is a perfect example of this. The Doctor transforms himself into a human because has been overwhelmed with the burden that comes with being a Time Lord and needs a break from himself.