After the events of the previous book ‘Sanctuary’ the Doctor decides to take a holiday from himself. Transformed into the very human Dr John Smith he begins teaching at an all boys school in 1914, Bernice watching over him as his ‘niece’.
Things take a turn for the worse when the shape-shifting Aubertides arrive, determined to find the hidden biodata pod that contains the Doctor’s Gallifreyian DNA. With the school turned into a battlefield Bernice must convince John Smith who he really is, even if it means giving up the love of his life, Joan Redfern.
This is the story that was successfully adapted for the television. Even if you’ve know the general story the book has enough differences to keep you interested. Another classic of the New Adventure range, almost everyone who read it was excited at the idea of an adaptation.
The book gives us more time to spend with Dr John Smith, letting us appreciate the sacrifices he makes in turning back into the Doctor. Here is a man who has to put his faith in his alter-ego, giving up his own identity in the hopes that the Doctor will make things better.
I found it interesting that the television version makes the Doctor more directly responsible for the deaths that occur at the school. In the novel he is unaware that the Aubertides are after him, making him almost completely blameless.
While making Martha a maid at the school, capitalising on how her race affected her social standing in that era, I do enjoy the use of Bernice in this version of events. She is recuperating after someone she loved died in the previous story, spending time painting.
When the Aubertides arrive she is more than capable of dealing with them. In comparison to Martha she has had plenty of experience with these types of situations, making her much more capable.
The Family of Blood were fine villains, particularly their habit of taking the bodies of people in the area, but the Aubertides are great. Shape-shifters with the ability to inherit the abilities of those they consume the power to regenerate would make them invincible. In potential future they would have used this power to wipe out the Time Lords.
They are incredibly ruthless, sealing off a large section of area surrounding the school and using nuclear weapons to achieve their goals. Some also possessed unusual talents and it is a shame that Aphasia’s killer balloon didn’t make it to the small screen.
One of the things that is missing from the books, and which was a huge part of the New Adventure mythos, are the Eternals. Here the Eternal Death makes good on her threat to claim John Smith in a neat twist that was missing from the televised episode.
This book also introduced the world to Wolsey the cat. The faithful feline spent most of his time exploring the TARDIS in subsequent novels, eventually leaving with Bernice in ‘The Dying Days’.
One final amusing part of this book is that an Aubertide pretends to be the 10th Doctor in order to gain Bernice’s trust. Ironic that it would be the incarnation of the Doctor who took part in the adaptation.
What do you do when something in another medium is adapted to the television series? Does that versions of events replace the original? Or is there a way for both things to be true?
You could cling to the differences, establishing that two very similar events happened to the Doctor. It is entirely possible that due to the frequent loss of memory that the 8th Doctor suffered the 10th Doctor was unaware that this had all happened before.
We could also suppose that either the Time War or the Cracks in Time wiped out the events of the book from the web of time. The 10th Doctor led the Family of Blood there to fill a gap, in much the same way that the 8th Doctor and Romana made sure the events of ‘Shada’ occurred.
This is the perfect excuse to have adventures based around earlier Doctor Who adventures. Playing either a different incarnation of the Doctor or their original characters they must fill the gaps, possibly using their own fore-knowledge to their advantage or encountering unexpected twists.
You could see it as evidence that time is not as fixed as the Doctor suggests. In dire situations it could be possible to re-do an adventure, the TARDIS wiping out previous versions of events when it materialises. This could be akin to what occurs in ‘Father’s Day’ when the earlier versions of the Doctor and Rose vanish when the time line changes.
Changing a Time Lord PC into a human is simple enough to do within the rules. The character simply does not have access to his normal Time Lords traits, perhaps receiving some extra story points.
The influence of the Doctor’s DNA is so powerful that even being in proximity to the biodata pod that contains it is enough to give others Time Lord traits. This could be a good twist for an adventure, passing the role of Time Lord to another character, however briefly.
Just as in the television show Dr John Smith expresses his former life through creative pursuits. Here he writes books for children about an old man in a police box. These books might turn up in your own adventures. Particularly bright readers might realise that they are not reading works of fiction.
The Doctor leaves instructions for Bernice, just as he will for Martha, that include not allowing him to do anything impossible. Of course this is supposed to be a funny line but given the evidence of the series is that an element of truth to this?
In ‘The City of Death’ the Doctor and Romana, apparently fly (off screen) from the top of the Eiffel Tower, ‘Sky Pirates!’ suggests that the Doctor is more than he appears and ‘Death Comes to Time’ explicitly states that Time Lords have god-like powers they choose not to use.
Within the game this is reason enough to allow story points to be spent to allow Time Lord characters to do the impossible. It also suggests that a Time Lord, even one transformed into a human, could break reality is they aren’t paying attention.
Finally the Eternals (Time, Pain, Death and more) make bargains with select Time Lords who act as their champions. These deals always come with a high price, although loop holes can be found.
This can be an interesting part of the mythos to incorporate into the games. In particularly desperate situations a Time Lord character might bargain with an Eternal for a boon. Subsequent story arcs could then deal with how the PC is going to pay the Eternal back.
They may also encounter Time Lords who have chosen to be the champion of Death or Pain. This could give them great power and the PCs might only be able to defeat them if they make a bargain of their own or find a way to break their opponents contract by preventing him from fulfilling his side of the bargain.