Trying to recover from the loss of Roz in ‘So Vile A Sin’ the Doctor and Chris travel to 1950’s London. The murder of a young man leads the time travellers to discover a black cab abducting people from the street.
The people are artificial creations, toys, designed to empathically change into whatever a person desires. They were meant as a form of therapy but many have gone rogue, escaping into the London population.
Coincidentally the Doctor’s old companion Peri finds a way to escape her marriage from Yrcanos and back to Earth. Through her the Doctor discovers the Toy’s alien origin and who their creator is.
The Doctor thinks that he has come up with the perfect solution but Chris and Peri object. Can he save the day without manipulating others?
This is a book about people being used by others. As such it fits well with the character of the 7th Doctor, using the death of Roz to re-evaluate how he operates. It could be argued that the way that the Toys become what their partner needs is similar to the way in which the Doctor shapes his companions to be what he needs.
The Toys are good science fiction creations and it is a nice change that they are used for helping people rather than in an attempt to take over the world. The community of rogue Toys are interesting, with strong characterisation.
All of this is against the backdrop of 1950s London, the events in this novel sparking the Notting Hill riots. This is an effective way to strengthen the themes of the book, looking at how people view and treat each other.
Peri is underused, although her reintroduction is amusing. She does help reinforce the idea that the Doctor has a tendency to use and then abandon people. Here she is angry that the Doctor never came for her, despite his claim that he thought she was happy with King Yrcanos.
This is another New Adventure novel that explores mature themes and is filled with emotion. An exploration of science fiction ideas in a historical setting it is another fine addition to the range.
The Toys are built from organic materials harvested from human beings. When first created they are featureless, lacking even finger prints. They shape shift to meet the needs of their companion, eventually taking on a personality of their own.
Used in therapy they weren’t a complete success. Since they were designed to meet the needs of the patient they would encourage them to carryout dangerous and self-destructive acts, if that is what the patient wanted to do.
Without a companion a Toy will die. The Doctor discovers that rogue Toys can support each other, freeing them from the need to have a patient. At the conclusion of this story there is a large number of Toy’s living throughout London.
This would make a good background for a player character. This would require only the Shapeshift (minor) trait and a variation of the Psychic trait allowing the user to sense emotions and desires rather than thoughts.
They would make good companions, able to adapt to whatever situation they find themselves in and make friends easily. The other PCs can act as their own emotional food source, their bond keeping the Toy alive.
PCs might encounter Toys in other eras. Since they have human DNA it is possible that they’d be able to breed. What would the next generation of Toy be like? Would such a child even know about his true nature?
An organisation such as UNIT or Torchwood could stumble upon their existence and begin hunting them. If the PCs aren’t members of these organisations they will have to persuade them that the Toys are harmless.
The Toys could be related to the Gangers. A scientist could have discovered the existence of the Toys and learnt the secret of their creation. This would explain their predisposition to rebel.
There could be Toy agents who try to reach out to the Gangers and liberate them, as they once were. Both were designed to be used as tools and both overcame those simple origins to become something more. This common ground could form a powerful alliance.
Shape shifting aliens, such as the Zygon and Chameleons, could also have an interest in the Toys. They could be very useful to secret invasions since any biological scan of a Toy would reveal human DNA. PCs could find themselves trying to free the Toys from the clutches of alien forces.
The Doctor’s initial plan to help the Toys is to hold a social gathering so they bond with Londoners, forming relationships. Chris persuades him not to do this as it will mean that he is manipulating innocent people, once again.
Players might come up with a solution but it is for them to decide if it is the right one. This should be encouraged in adventure design, giving players several different options in dealing with the problem.
This gives them more investment since the choice they make will say a lot about how they view their characters. Making different choices can demonstrate that their characters are growing.
At one point the Doctor demonstrates the ability to telepathically open the TARDIS door, without needing to use the key. This is obviously very similar to the talent he later displays in ‘Forest of the Dead’ where he opens it with snap of his fingers.
Earlier in that adventure the Doctor is sceptical that anyone could do that. This is easily explained since he might either have lost this particular memory during the frequent mind wipes that the 8th Doctor endured or as a consequence of regeneration, which can cause skills to diminish or vanish entirely.
The telepathic bond between a Time Lord and his TARDIS could be used within a campaign to remotely control his TARDIS. A minor version of such a trait could allow him to open and close the doors as well as turning on automated systems such as Temporal Grace and HADS. A major version of the same trait could even allow a Time Lord to remotely pilot his TARDIS.