A collision with a reality bomb from an early Time War (not the one we know from the New Series) sends the TARDIS hurtling into a pocket dimension, called the System. The Doctor, Bernice and new companions Roz and Cwej join up with the pirate crew of the spaceship ‘Schirron Dream’.
They are on a quest to find the Eyes of Schirron, whose reality warping powers they hope to use to defeat the evil shape-shifting Sloathes and Planet X, another living planet. The Doctor soon comes to suspect that the quest is a farce and that they are actually at the mercy of an ancient enemy of the Timelords, the Charon.
With perplexing local physical laws the System can be as amusing as it is lethal. Nothing is what it seems, least of all the Doctor.
This story is definitely in the style of a Terry Pratchett books, with plentiful footnotes. This is very dark comedy, with horrible things happening to people because that is what they deserve and the universe is a cold, uncaring place.
An example of this is that the shape shifting Sloathe are defined by how others perceive them. As a result of this because people expected the Sloathe to be evil monsters that is exactly what they became.
It also appears to be a commentary of the artificial nature of stories. On the surface this appears to be a quest, with prophecies foretelling of a chosen one. In this case it is a woman named Leetha T’Zhan who is crest fallen when she finds out that the prophecy is lie, a trick to ensure a specific series of conditions are met. It turns out she isn’t special at all.
Like ‘The Pit’ the events in this story are due to the Time Lords actions. The Doctor feels guilt over this and when Charon, the supposed villain, learns that he is now the last of his kind he dies of loneliness.
It is the combination of comedy and tragedy that works so well in this story. Pathos lets it be funny but not insubstantial. It also introduces us to several characters who later attend Bernice Summerfield’s wedding.
This story reveals further details about the past of the Time Lords. We learn that one of the first things they did was seek out any species that could pose a threat to them and wipe them out.
Given how dangerous many of the remaining species in the universe are one can only wonder at the nature of those the Time Lords decided to wipe out entirely. Although some species were capable of temporal technology, enough to take part in a Time War, there must have been those who were completely defenceless against attacks that could erase them from the web of time.
What if the rest of the universe learnt that the Time Lords had committed genocide on such a scale? If this information was widely known the Time Lords could face retaliation. This could force their hand and pressure them into taking direct control of the universe.
Rather than being shadowy figures sworn to non-interference they would be an authority which controlled both star systems and time lines. Under such conditions rebellions could arise, with the Doctor no doubt involved.
This could be an interesting setup, with the PCs trying to free the universe from the Time Lords, who have immense power. Would the Master rejoin the homeworld in the hopes of being allowed to govern part of the universe, enjoying the chance to use his skills of domination with the support of the ruling council?
This could lead to the Time War shown in the New Series. The Daleks would make good allies initially, other species used as cannon fodder to weaken the Time Lords. At the climatic battle the Doctor realises that the Daleks are ready to assume the Time Lords place should they succeed, leaving him no choice but to destroy both sides.
If the Time Lords were completely removed from time then those species they destroyed could return. This would cause massive upheaval throughout reality, making it very different that the universe the PCs are familiar with.
We also learn that the Time Lords are extra-dimensional. One of the natives of the System is able to see the Doctor as he truly is and is both terrified and awestruck. This can be hand to remember when a Time Lord PC encounters similar beings. Unlike the other characters such a Time Lord could be an equal.
It is also a good explanation of seeming acts of magic that the Doctor (especially the 7th) displays. Being able to change places in a moving vehicle with Ace in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and the Doctor and Romana travelling from the the top of the Eiffel tower to the bottom in a wink of an eye all make more sense if they can travel in higher dimensions.
Bernice comes to realise that the Doctor spends much of his time ‘mentally pushing’ people around them to make their lives easier. Due to his influence people are more trusting, open their doors to them and give them shelter.
This can be used to justify any unrealistic behaviour from NPCs and does not need to specified by the Time Lord PC. People are just naturally going to reveal vital plot details, ask the PCs to help them or otherwise keep the adventure moving when realistically they should mistrust these strangers and even hamper their efforts.
It should be noted that the Time Lord’s companions aren’t immune to this influence either. Not only will they not question the strange behaviour of those around them it could be that their habit of getting into trouble is due to the Time Lord PC’s influence. He needs them to act as bait to draw out the evil in the local area.
All of which helps remind players that the Time Lords are a very alien species while helping to maintain the tone of the series during an adventure.
The central plot of this story is easy to adapt for adventures set in the current era. After the most recent Time War there could be plenty of booby traps left over, with many species hiding from the conflict or recovering from the effects of battle.